"It's gonna be a long fucking night. You know that, right?" announced Dave Grohl Wednesday at Hammerstein Ballroom. He wasn't lying. Over three hours later, legs sore and ears ringing, I left the venue having witnessed a show with one of the strangest (non-festival) lineups ever, with Alain Johannes, Chris Goss, Brad Wilk, Lee Ving, Rick Nielsen, Krist Novoselic, Rick Springfield, John Fogerty, and Stevie Nicks taking their turns fronting the Foo Fighters.
What united this odd collective of musicians known as the Sound City Players? Sound City, a recording studio in Van Nuys where albums like Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, Neil Young's After the Gold Rush, and Nirvana's Nevermind were all put to tape. The dumpy studio had the luck of great acoustics combined with one-of-a-kind analog sound through a custom-built Neve 8028 mixing console. Grohl is convinced that Nirvana would have never achieved their immense level of success had it not been for that board, so when Sound City was forced to close its doors as a commercial studio in May 2011 as a result of the domination of ProTools, he purchased the Neve from the owner, and installed it at his house. Grohl could have been greedy with his new property, but instead, he invited a number of the musicians who had recorded with it at Sound City to create some new tunes with him. The result was a documentary called Sound City (in theaters and up for download now) and a record (to be released in March). With the mentality that if you release an album, you should tour behind it, Dave assembled the cast for a small number of concerts, the third of which was last night.
Around 8:40, the lights went out and a screen dropped from the rafters. The opening five minutes to the film played out, beginning with Dave Grohl's narration over time-lapse footage of the trip from Seattle to Sound City. A parade of talking heads, from Trent Reznor to Rick Rubin to Lars Ulrich, spouted off the names of bands that recorded there, as well as a few anecdotes. Eventually, the interview subject it came to rest on was Alain Johannes, a member of bands Eleven, Queens of the Stone Age, and Them Crooked Vultures. A title card with his name appeared, and the screen lifted to reveal Johannes with the Foo Fighters. Opening with "A Trick With No Sleeve" from the Sound City LP, he followed it with some Eleven numbers, and a QOTSA track he wrote, "Hanging Tree." I wasn't very familiar with his work, but he was a good axeman. "I wish Al could play all night," said Grohl, who then corrected himself, "He could fucking play all night." Rest assured, he would return for several of the other sets.
Now with the theme of introductory vignettes established, the next two performers shown on the screen were Chris Goss of Masters of Reality, and Rage Against the Machine's Brad Wilk. Sadly, no Rage songs were performed, but new song "Time Slowing Down" was one of my favorites of the night. Its rhythm and closing guitar solo reminded me a little of early Jimmie's Chicken Shack. A long slide down the neck of the guitar linked it seamlessly with another burner, "Domino." "Ladies and gentlemen, Chris Goss has been our hero for fucking years!" screamed Grohl as the white curtain descended again.
Up until this point, the genre of the night had been "desert rock," but as Lee Ving's wild face appeared on the screen, the punk fans in the crowd whooped loudly. As leader of the seminal California hardcore band Fear, Ving and his bandmates recorded their debut, The Record, at Sound City Studios. I was very curious as to how the crowd would react. Would there be moshing like at Fear's infamous 1981 Saturday Night Live appearance? A splash of beer from a thrown cup was as rowdy as it got in the crowd, but onstage was a different story, amplified by Ving's howling harmonica in "Your Wife is Calling." Picking up his guitar, he introduced "I Love Livin' in the City" as an "old-fashioned singalong." Counting off every song with a rapid-fire "1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4!" Ving and company blazed through six songs in 16 minutes. Dave divulged, "People ask me, 'What's it like playing with Paul McCartney? What's it like playing with Stevie Nicks? What's it like playing with John Fogerty?' You know what it's like? It's like playing with Lee fucking Ving!"
Rick Nielsen and Krist Novoselic came next, a gaggle of white balloons appearing out of nowhere at the start of their set. Taylor Hawkins traded spots with Grohl, and got to live out his rock fantasy camp dream of singing Cheap Trick songs with Rick Nielsen. Before the final song, the exhuberant Hawkins admitted that he was merely subbing for the guy who sings on the record, Corey Taylor of Slipknot. "Hey, fuck him, Taylor. You're way better," Rick shot back, and they kicked into "Surrender." Noticing Pat Smear singing along to the chorus, Nielsen attempted to coax him to the microphone, but Smear shook his head, happy enough just to share the stage. Brad Wilk, however, had no problem returning to grab the mic on the opposite side to finish the last chorus, as Hawkins and Nielsen tossed out handfuls of shiny confetti onto the crowd.
The screen sank yet again, and heartthrob Rick Springfield's face garnered screams from the crowd, be they ironic or authentic. Springfield may seem the odd man in the bunch, but he's essential to the Sound City story. After years of being turned down by every manager in town, Sound City signed him to a record deal. The first LP was 1981's Working Class Dog, which featured a little #1 song called "Jessie's Girl." I personally like power pop, so I had no issue, but to any naysayers, this wasn't just Rick Springfield; it was Rick Springfield backed by the Foo Fighters. The music was much heavier, especially the opener, the Sound City track, "The Man That Never Was." His consistent pointing into the crowd felt a little cheesy, but with such catchy tunes as "Love is Alright Tonite" and "Love Somebody," I didn't care. "God damn it, I love Rick Springfield," remarked Grohl between numbers. "I think it's time for the next performer... unless you have one more song?" Dave teased. Springfield started up the classic riff before being interrupted by Grohl: "He wrote a song that you know by the fucking first three notes. Teach me, Rick. Teach me. You're like fucking Yoda." At the song's conclusion, Grohl exclaimed, "The original star of Sound City, Rick Springfield!"
The video clip preceding John Fogerty dealt with the loss of the human element with the advent of digital editing. "It sounded too perfect," he lamented. Though "Born on the Bayou" featured a nice jam, his set was far from perfect, the singer's swampy, gritty voice blown out after so many years of growling out his throaty vocals. Halfway through the set, I realized that I was experiencing the concert in the wrong way. Instead of comparing his vocals to how they sounded 45 years ago (an unrealistic expectation), I should have been delighting in the fact that he was up there still rocking out. To watch the Foo Fighters smilingly accompany their idols was something special, particularly when the legends were the ones who actually appeared to be having the most fun. "Hey, man. I don't know about you, but I'm up here playin' with the frickin' Foo Fighters!" giggled Fogerty, open-mouthed grin fixed on his 67-year-old face.
I'd been thinking that any of the previous three sets could've feasibly ended the show, but at the revue's conclusion, it was evident that Stevie Nicks was the only one who could've done it. After recording Buckingham Nicks at Sound City, Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham hung out around the studio, having made friends with the staff. When Mick Fleetwood came in one day searching for a guitarist, he heard a sample of Buckingham's playing and had to have him. Fortunately, his girlfriend came in tow, and they joined Fleetwood Mac. Their eponymous 1975 LP and the smash follow-up, Rumours, really put Sound City on the map. After "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around," Nicks told the story of her 18-year-old godson's death by overdose that inspired her contribution to the Sound City record, "You Can't Fix This." She proposed to Grohl, "Knowing our history, do you wanna go there with me? And he said, 'I'm going with you, babe.'" The dark song was probably my favorite of her set, considering I've never really listened to Fleetwood Mac. The two were left alone on the stage for "Landslide," with Dave on acoustic 12-string, though they were supported in the song's second half by a violinist and the accordion that had been sitting so presciently for the entire show. Dave was visibly choked up at the song's end, and it took him a few minutes into "Gold Dust Woman"'s spacey intro to compose himself. "God bless Stevie Nicks! God bless Sound City!" he shouted when the song had finally ended.
I wish I would have appreciated the spectacle of the whole thing sooner than I did instead of focusing so much on musicianship. I paid the most amount of money I'd ever paid for a concert, so I'm still struggling as to whether or not it was worth it. There were a few 11-year-old girls in the audience who probably saved up a year's worth of allowance to attend, but I'm sure they'll remember it forever. At the very least, I've been inspired to look into the catalogs of the artists I'd never listened to before. And the documentary has given me the itch to start recording music again. In hindsight, yeah, I guess it was worth it.
ALAIN JOHANNES - 02.13.13 - HAMMERSTEIN BALLROOM (24 minutes)
A Trick with No Sleeve / Why / All My Friends / Hanging Tree / Reach Out
CHRIS GOSS & BRAD WILK - 02.13.13 - HAMMERSTEIN BALLROOM (25 minutes)
She Got Me (When She Got Her Dress On) / It's Shit / Time Slowing Down > Domino / The Blue Garden
LEE VING - 02.13.13 - HAMMERSTEIN BALLROOM (16 minutes)
Your Wife is Calling / I Love Livin' in the City / Gimme Some Action / Beef Bologna / Foreign Policy / I Don't Care About You
RICK NIELSEN & KRIST NOVOSELIC - 02.13.13 - HAMMERSTEIN BALLROOM (20 minutes)
Hello There > Stiff Competition / I Want You to Want Me > Ain't That a Shame / Surrender
RICK SPRINGFIELD - 02.13.13 - HAMMERSTEIN BALLROOM (21 minutes)
The Man That Never Was / I've Done Everything for You / Love is Alright Tonite / Love Somebody / Jessie's Girl
JOHN FOGERTY - 02.13.13 - HAMMERSTEIN BALLROOM (27 minutes)
Travelin' Band / Born on the Bayou / Centerfield / Keep on Chooglin' / Bad Moon Rising / Proud Mary / Fortunate Son
STEVIE NICKS - 02.13.13 - HAMMERSTEIN BALLROOM (32 minutes)
Stop Draggin' My Heart Around / You Can't Fix This / Dreams / Landslide / Gold Dust Woman