“It’s going to be a long fucking night – you know that, right?” Grohl said to the cheering crowd before bringing 17 musicians on stage for three-plus hours of performances from Rage Against the Machine’s Brad Wilk, Queens of the Stone Age’s Alain Johannes, Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic, Masters of Reality’s Chris Goss, Lee Ving, Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen, Slip Knot’s Corey Taylor, Rick Springfield, John Fogerty and Stevie Nicks.
“We’re not even close guys,” Grohl said an hour into the performance. “Everybody do a shot.” Divided into an evening of mini-sets backed almost entirely by Foo Fighters (who apparently learned 50 songs in 10 days) Grohl guided the crowd through a live history of the Sound City Studios (and his own musical development). Introducing Lee Ving, he told the story of hearing the artist at age 12 and “knowing in that moment he wanted to be a musician.” Or listening to Cheap Trick’s “Surrender” as a drunk sixteen-year-old.
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The featured artists, all of whom once recorded at Sound City, played up to seven songs from their catalog as well as ones recorded especially for the film – and forthcoming album – which premiered Friday at the Sundance Film Festival.
Springfield put air-guitar heroes to shame on “I’ve done everything for you,” “Jessie’s Girl” and his new song with Grohl, “The Man That Never Was.” Fogerty knocked out a fierce “Born on the Bayou,” “Bad Moon Rising,” “Proud Mary” and “Fortunate Son” with Grohl. Nicks wooed with a new song written with Grohl, “You Can’t Fix This” – based on a poem she wrote after her godson’s overdose – and the Sundance-appropriate “snow covered hills” of “Landslide.” The supergroup grew out of Grohl’s Sound City documentary, which goes inside the fabled Van Nuys recording studio where Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Metallica and Nirvana recorded some of their most acclaimed albums.
“I consider this to be the most important thing I’ve ever done, artistically, of all the albums I’ve made, of all the bands I’ve had the pleasure of being in,” the first-time director said at the film’s premiere. “I really feel like the Sound City movie, its intention is to inspire the next generation of kids to fall in love with music as much as I did.”
Grohl set out to tell the story of the studio’s renowned Neve 8028 console, which grew into a larger conversation surrounding what made the now shuttered studio unique. He interviews the runners, engineers, receptionists, producers, and artists – everyone from Neil Young to Barry Manilow – on why the sound was different. But beyond the technical, the film explores the idiosyncratic vibe of a studio that was never particularly attractive or well-run.
“It was like a lucky hole in the universe for a lot of people,” Springfield told Rolling Stone. “I met my wife there. My career started there – a lot of people’s careers started there – in this ass-ugly industrial complex in Van Nuys.” ”It looked like a double-wide trailer,” Springfield remembers. “I mean, it had parkay on the floor, and the bathrooms looked like they’d never been cleaned. And people couldn’t cash a check until, you know, the next week.”
This vintage patina – they spliced tape – is clearly part of the studio’s appeal, especially in an era of Pro-Tools and accessibility to quick and easy recording technology. ”When you start talking about leveling the playing field, and how digital technology has made everyone a photographer, or a movie editor, or a musician, it’s kind of the same – I mean, I made a movie. It’s shocking really,” Grohl said, laughing. As to whether he’d direct another film, Grohl was non-committal but noted, “I started the Foo Fighters as a hobby, and that was 20 years ago.”