If the Sound City Soundtrack Rocks Half as Hard as the Movie, It Will Rule
The Dave Grohl-directed documentary Sound City, is a loving and thoroughly entertaining docu-valentine to the legendary studio just outside of L.A. where many landmark albums were recorded. Throughout the film's first half, we're given glimpses of behind the scenes action on the making of such classics as Fleetwood Mac's Rumors, Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker's Damn the Torpedoes, and, of course, Nirvana's Nevermind. The film, which played on dozens of screens nationwide last night, made a few things clear. Some things were already pretty well known, but there was a revelation or two waiting to be unfurled.
First with the easy stuff. Dave Grohl really is a bad-ass. Regardless of where one stands on his almost two decades worth of work with his main band, the Foo Fighters, or one's definition of bad-assery, this documentary, naturally and convincingly displays him as the glue that binds together generations of rock royalty. Thanks to many of the films "Holy Crap!" moments, it's also easy to admit that we're all music nerds and we love being star-struck. Even in the confines of a movie theater, seeing John Fogerty, Dave Grohl and Tom Petty shooting the shit a few inches apart from one another in a control room elicited gasps of surprise and delight from the packed audience.
OK, Dave Grohl is a guru and people dig celebrities. So what? Perhaps the film's greatest achievement is that former teen-idol and soap actor Rick Springfield comes across as a pretty bitchin' dude. Not only does he command a great deal of screen time as we learn of his pivotal role in the story of the Sound City studio and of his relationships with the people who ran it, but we get to see him tear it up with some decidedly non-Tiger Beat guitar licks and primal punk screams in the film's second half, where Grohl assembles an all-star crew of Sound City vets to record an album of new material.
The unexpected, yet most important, lesson that's imparted through the film is that a soundboard can indeed be the star of a film. The custom-built Neve 8028 console that captured not only Grohl's ear but the drum-loving lobes of Mick Fleetwood, Tom Petty, Trent Reznor, Rick Rubin, Josh Homme and many others becomes the focal point organically and entertainingly, even if you're not a tech-nerd. The Neve board is used as a way to smoothly connect the film's two parts. And hearing so many musical greats drool over the magnificence of the analog machine could turn even Deadmau5 into an acoustic performer.
While there were brief moments where Johnny Cash's epic, Rubin-produced and Petty-backed Unchained and Neil Young's After the Goldrush were dealt with, it felt odd for the film to move on so quickly from such seminal works. But there is a reason:
Once Sound City closes - presumably due to the widespread availability of digital recording equipment - and Grohl sweeps in to take the rare console to his studio, the movie turns into a fun, and at times, goosebump-inducing behind-the-scenes glimpse into the creation of a few key tunes that will be on an album that will serve as the accompaniment to the film. When Sir Paul McCartney enters the room, it's clear he's popped his little blue pill. He's a virile man possessed during the course of working on the song, "Cut Me Some Slack." But the toned-down, almost tender interplay between Grohl and drumming legend Dave Keltner, followed by the Homme, Reznor and Grohl collaboration on "Mantra," when the three seem to be zenning-out in a sincere way, provide the chilled-out serenity that the communal feel of the movie's last half really seemed to be reaching for. To keep things from getting too mellow, Lee Ving of Fear and Rick Springfield are there to kick a little ass.
It's a great flick, and as smile-forcing as a documentary can likely get. Any fan of American rock & roll will be hard-pressed to leave without feeling like any out-of-touch pundits proclaiming "Rock is dead" are just grabbing for lazy headlines instead of paying attention to what's really going on across the generations of rock music.