Dave Grohl gathered a slew of rock ‘n’ roll’s legendary musicians to celebrate the Los Angeles premiere of his documentary Sound City on Thursday night at ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood. In the spirit of film, which tracks the history of Van Nuys recording studio Sound City, Grohl later brought the musicians onstage with him at the Hollywood Palladium under the moniker Sound City Players, reveling in both classics and material he recently recorded with the likes of Stevie Nicks, John Fogerty and Rick Springfield.
The film, which is in theaters and available digitally, is a love-letter from Grohl to the analog studio where he and Nirvana recorded Nevermind over the course of a few weeks in 1991. The initial focal point of the film is the studio’s custom-made Neve console, which Grohl since has purchased and used to record new original tracks with Nicks, Fogerty, Springfield, Trent Reznor and Paul McCartney, among others. If the first half of the film is a historical record of the decrepit studio where so many classic albums were laid down, the second is a testament to the importance of musical collaboration as Grohl reveals the sessions that led to these new tracks.
The L.A. incarnation of Sound City Players — comprising Nicks, Springfield, Fogerty, Lee Ving of Fear, Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine, Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, Robert Levon Been and Peter Hayes of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Alain Johannes and Chris Goss, as well as Grohl’s Nirvana bandmate Krist Novoselic and Foo Fighters regulars Taylor Hawkins, Nate Mendel, Chris Shiflett and Pat Smear — reflected Grohl’s sensibility that new collaborations can keep rock ‘n’ roll alive.
“It’s great for anyone who loves music to see behind the curtain how these guys who’ve made it in the music industry did it,” Sound City writer Mark Monroe told The Hollywood Reporter at the premiere. “That’s what a lot of kids want to know — the secret formula. And I think the secret formula is playing with other people, with other like-minded people, and working it out yourself.”
For Grohl, those like-minded people are all musicians who recorded at Sound City. His collaboration with Nicks, “You Can’t Fix This,” which will appear on the forthcoming soundtrack Sound City: Real to Reel, was inspired by the death of Nicks’ godson last year. During her closing set with Grohl and the rest of Foo Fighters at the Palladium, Nicks told the crowd, “I asked if Dave wanted to go there with me, and he said ‘I’m going with you there, babe.'”
Some of the iterations of Sound City worked better than others in the live setting, with Nicks and Springfield as the notable standouts. But who ever would have thought that Slipknot’s Corey Taylor could join Nielsen and Novoselic for a rousing rendition of Cheap Trick’s “Surrender” and have it actually work? Or that Foo Fighters are actually an ideal backing band for Ving to revitalize some of Fear’s most notable hits? The two-and-a-half-hour performance was intercut with footage from the film, revealing each standout player’s connection with Sound City before they came onstage.
Grohl was like a gleeful child throughout, clearly living out a succession of youthful fantasies about playing “Fortunate Son” with Fogerty or dueting with Nicks on “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” Sound City clearly is a passion-project for Grohl, embarked upon to illuminate a lesser-known aspect of music history.
“We started this project about a year and a half ago,” Grohl told the audience during his intro to the film at the premiere. “It was a small group of people that made this film, completely independent of any big major studio. It was really about 12 or 15 friends who got together and told the story of a place that was very special to us in a way that we felt did justice to a place that changed my life. When I walked into Sound City, I was really a kid — I was 22 years old, and I had no idea that the next couple weeks would change my life forever.”
“I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Sound City,” he added.
Grohl, who performed with the Sound City Players after the documentary’s Jan. 18 premiere at Sundance Film Festival in Park City, will bring the supergroup to the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City on Feb. 13. And he’s not the only musician invigorated by this process of collaboration: Nicks, whose band Fleetwood Mac recorded its self-titled 1975 smash at Sound City and appears in the film, is fully onboard for wherever Grohl’s circus heads next.
“We love this movie, so we’re doing whatever we have to to promote it,” Nicks told reporters at the premiere. “We want people to see it, because it really is a magical fairy-tale.”
Early-on during Thursday’s performance, Grohl hopped behind the drumkit to accompany Been and Hayes on a few BRMC numbers. The trio’s final song was a gritty rendition of “Whatever Happened to My Rock ‘n’ Roll,” off BRMC’s 2001 self-titled debut. The song’s lyrics notably reflected the belief Grohl conveys in Sound City, that music is not about perfection (or recording on a computer) but about the feeling it brings.
The song goes, “I fell in love with the sweet sensation/I gave my heart to a simple chord/I gave my soul to a new religion/Whatever happened to you?/Whatever happened to our rock ‘n’ roll?” With this film and the supergroup it has birthed, Grohl seems to suggest rock ‘n’ roll hasn’t gone anywhere. Not if he has anything to do with, anyway.
A Trick With No sleeve
She Got Me
Time Slowing Down
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
Heaven and All
Red Eyes and Tears
Whatever Happened to My Rock ‘n’ Roll
Your Wife Is Calling
I Love Livin’ in the City
Gimme Some Action
I Don’t Care About You
Rick Nielsen and Corey Taylor
From Can to Can’t
Isn’t That a shame
The Man That Never Was
I’ve Done Everything for You
Love Is Alright Tonite
Born on the Bayou
Keep on Chooglin’
Bad Moon Rising
Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around
You Can’t Fix This
Gold Dust Woman