“This is my rock and roll fantasy camp,” Taylor Hawkins said as he switched seats with Dave Grohl who delighted on drums and allowed Hawkins to take the lead on Cheap Trick hits like “I Want You to Want Me” and “Surrender.” Standing to Hawkins’ right was Cheap Trick’s own Rick Nielsen. On the other? Krist Novoselic. The “house” band for the evening was Hawkins, Chris Shiflett, Rami Jaffe, Pat Smear, Nate Mendel and Dave Grohl…ya know, that little known rock act, the Foo Fighters. On this night at New York City’s Hammerstein Ballroom, however, they were the Sound City Players, Grohl’s latest and greatest brainchild.
Sound City centers around a recording studio of the same name that played host to Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young, Pat Benatar, Tom Petty, Nirvana and scads more. More specifically, Sound City centers around a mixing board and that was the story Grohl intended to tell. Through the process of making Sound City, Grohl’s directorial debut, he tapped into something deeper. Not only did he tap into the human element of making music, but he also tapped into the element of speaking one’s truth. Over and over, the message of truth and authenticity is revisited, and witnessing the spectacle onstage at Hammerstein Ballroom, Grohl’s point is driven home. Every single person on that stage was there because they wanted to be, because they were doing what they loved and it showed, making it one of the most infectiously entertaining things to lay witness to. These people were in their element, they were at play. The fact that 4,000 people were watching was incidental.
Each mini-set was punctuated by clips from the documentary and served as introductions for the revolving door of musicians who agreed to come along on the ride that is Dave Grohl’s great rock crusade. There was hardly a moment during the three hour-plus set when whichever incarnation of the Foos was playing back-up to the likes of Lee Ving from Fear, Chris Goss from Masters of Reality, Alain Johannes from Queens of the Stone Age and Them Crooked Vultures, Rick Springfield, John Fogerty and Stevie Nicks, that they weren’t wearing an ear-to-ear grin and looking at each other as if they couldn’t believe this was really happening to them. Nevermind the fact that their day job consists of being one of the biggest bands in the world.
Springfield was an absolute highlight of the night. He was the first cinematic boy butt (and probably the first bare boy butt, period) that I’d ever seen in the lovely 80s nugget Hard to Hold. I was five. So, needless to say, the site of Rick Springfield in the flesh did elicit a little giggle. Unlike the cheese factor that comes with his acting resume, such is not the case with his music. Three notes into Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl,” the crowd erupted, prompting Grohl to say with envy, “The f*cking man wrote a song that everybody knows from three f*cking notes. Teach me, Rick, teach me. Give me your knowledge. You’re like f*cking Yoda.”
Fogerty continued the energy crescendo set up by Springfield, blazing through Creedance Clearwater Revival classics like “Born on the Bayou” and “Fortunate Son.” His was the most powerful set of the evening. The Foos (all accounted for) were on point, and Fogerty sounded as good as ever.
Stevie Nicks brought down the house, and for me, not in the usual sense of the word. Nicks talked tragically of how she lost her godson to a drug overdose a year ago. And as she does, Nicks wrote a poem about it in an effort to aid her through her grieving process. Grohl and his pet project coincided with the timing of it all, and as she explained onstage, she asked Grohl, “Knowing our history with the subject, do you wanna go there with me?” And there it was: the inevitable Kurt Cobain reference, and as Grohl so often does when the subject matter arises, he nodded subtly from the shadows, acknowledging without acknowledging. Like a shadow cast that Grohl may never be allowed to fully emerge from, the singular reference painted a sad pallor that was happily lacking from the evening.
On a base level, it’s sad because a man took his own life. It’s sad because a girl will never know her father. On an artistic level, it’s sad because that man left a large hole in the musical landscape still unfulfilled. It’s sad because, had he lived, his band that is so revered as one of the greatest bands of all time would have inevitably been reduced to some watered down caricature of itself by now. “It’s better to burn out than fade away.” It’s sad because, had he lived, last night may not have happened and all the years in between would have gone a radically different course for all parties involved. These are all things I think about and all things I don’t necessarily need to think about when I’m at one of the coolest rock shows I’ve ever seen.
Nevertheless, last night was one of the coolest rock shows I have ever seen.