By Dan Reilly
Thursday, February 14, 2013 1:39 pm
“It’s going to be a long fucking night,” Dave Grohl said one song into his marathon Sound City concert at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom.
Over the course of a few hours, he and his Foo Fighters bandmates performed alongside a stacked bill of rock ‘n’ roll luminaries, all of whom recorded at the late Sound City studios in Los Angeles and participated in Grohl’s documentary on it. From the get-go, Dave was more than happy to play bandleader and let his guests be the center of attention, save for a few times he took lead vocals on someone else’s song.
The evening kicked off with a segment from the “Sound City” film and segued into a set by Alain Johannes, whom Grohl said was the most talented musician to play with Them Crooked Vultures, the supergroup featuring Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme and Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones. They started out loud, performing a track off the film’s soundtrack called “A Trick With No Sleeve” and throwing in “Hanging Tree” by QOTSA. Masters of Reality’s Chris Goss followed, with Rage Against the Machine’s Brad Wilk taking over drum duties for a set that included another new “Sound City” called “Time Slowing Down.”
Grohl’s enthusiasm kicked up a notch for the next guest, Lee Ving, the frontman of punk band Fear. “When people ask, ‘What’s it like to play with Paul McCartney, Stevie Nicks and John Fogerty,’ I say it’s like playing with Lee Ving,” Grohl told the crowd. Ving, for his part, was determined to encourage the beer drinkers of the crowd (“that’s everybody!”) to make some noise. Among the Fear-filled six-song set was “Your Wife Is Calling,” another soundtrack cut that made me wonder why more punk bands don’t incorporate some harmonica into their music. Seriously!
Foos drummer Taylor Hawkins got to live out his “rock ‘n’ roll fantasy camp” dream during the next segment, taking over lead vocals on Cheap Trick covers alongside the band’s guitarist Rick Nielsen. Grohl took over on drums with Nirvana bandmates Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear getting in on the action. At one point, Hawkins — who was pretty much the most excited person in the venue at this point — started whipping Smear’s ass with a towel, adding to the youthful “I can’t believe we’re actually doing this” vibe of the evening. Of course, they ended with “Surrender,” bringing the house down.
Up next was Rick Springfield, and I’ll admit that my knowledge of him is pretty limited to “Jessie’s Girl” and the fact that he recently admitted to being a sex addict. Therefore, I’m not sure how his songs originally sounded, but I will say that Dave and co. made Rick heavier than I ever thought he could sound. After four songs, including another one off the soundtrack, Grohl made light of Springfield’s one-hit wonder status. “It’s time for the next performer, unless you have one more song,” he said to Rick. With the crowd obviously in on the joke, Grohl said, “The fucking man wrote a song that everyone knows from the first fucking notes. Teach me your knowledge, Yoda!” That naturally led into the heaviest version of “Jessie’s Girl” I’ve ever heard. Kudos to you, Rick!
Clips from the documentary featuring the performers were shown between all the sets, and John Fogerty’s seemed to really resonate with the audience. The former Creedence frontman talked about how sad he was to hear that younger bands relied on digital trickery to record their songs instead of actually just playing well. And on that note, Fogerty came out for a set of classics: “Travelin’ Band,” “Born on the Bayou,” “Centerfield” (with that baseball guitar), “Keep on Chooglin’,” “Bad Moon Rising,” “Proud Mary” and “Fortunate Son,” with Grohl occasionally sharing vocal duties. It was at this point that I noticed my eardrums were taking a beating, but watching Fogerty and the Foos blast out those songs erased any pain or complaints I had.
Then came the final act to join the Sound City Players: Stevie Nicks. After duetting with Grohl on “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” the Fleetwood Mac singer told a story about how her godson fatally overdosed at a frat party, and she started writing a poem to cope with her grief. (Editor’s note: Stevie’s godson is her former manager Glen Parrish’s son.) Grohl called her up a few days later to ask her to be a part of the movie, and the poem ended up becoming the song “You Can’t Fix This” once they hit the studio together. It was an emotional moment amidst such a light-hearted night, and a great reminder of how many of these songs could help people through their pain.
Following “Dreams,” the rest of the band stayed back as Grohl picked up a 12-string acoustic to perform “Landslide” alone with Nicks. As if he needed to get in some more of the heaviness following that beautiful rendition, Grohl returned to his electric axe and led the band in a feedback frenzy to kick into a shattering version of “Gold Dust Woman” to close out the show. Sadly, there was no all-star encore jam, but who could complain about that?
In the end, it was obvious that Grohl put this all together to live out a rock fan’s dream. Sure, he’s been in two of the biggest bands of the last 20 years, played on the biggest stages around the world and made boatloads of money doing it, but he hasn’t lost that joy of being a kid with an instrument and ambition. Few will ever be as fortunate as him, but it’s heartening to see a rock star like Grohl not just keep that passion alive, but to try to share it with all of us through his movie and these concerts. The music world is lucky to have Dave Grohl.