Friday, February 15, 2013

Live Review: The Sound City Players, Hammerstein Ballroom, February 13th, 2013, (Feat. Dave Grohl, Stevie Nicks, John Fogerty, Rick Springfield, Rick Nielson, etc, etc)

Dave Grohl set the tone early Wednesday night at Hammerstein Ballroom, “this night is ALL about the Sound City Players.” The guy in the Everlong t-shirt frowned, and abruptly left town. The rest of us rejoiced when Grohl followed, “You know this is going to be a long night, but you knew that, right?”

Damn straight Dr. G.

We wouldn’t have it any other way. The show, with a run time right around three hours, was naturally segmented, much like the body of an ant, into sections of super bands featuring: Stevie Nicks, John Fogerty, Rick Springfield, Rick Nielson, etc, etc.  Thus allowing, each band their own unique backing band and a set of 5-7 songs, each partitioned by a “Sound City” projector that worked as a curtain as well as a crowd educator, giving each member a proper introduction, delving into their unique anecdote about Sound City, framing their involvement with the project.

It was remarkable how seamless the show carried on. After each subset, the projector would drop with a black and white Sound City for approximately one minute, before launching into each individual artist tale for a couple minutes, before rising to an explosive musical onset.

At a steep $107.60 (with TM fees…) there were high expectations for those lucky enough to be in attendance. For me, the thought of classic rock artists I wouldn’t normally fork over the big bucks to see, playing with my favorite backing band, was enough to move my money. Furthermore, I really enjoy the uniqueness of collaborative concerts, you know, the kinds of things you can’t buy albums for. I truly try to seek out these shows that feature musicians such as Grohl and Hawkins who are able to play LITERAL musical chairs, giving the audience something for the cinematic scrapbook.

Much like the show, I think it’s easiest to sort this show by their nature given subsets…

Alain Johannes

His connection to Grohl was with Queens of the Stone Age. Grohl famously played drums on QOTSA’s album Songs for the Deaf to which Johannes co-wrote a song “Hanging Tree,” a number featured in their opening set. The band was a Johannes, joined by Grohl, Chris Shiflett, Taylor Hawkins and Foo Fighters benchwarmer keyboardist Rami Jaffee.

It was very guitar driven, riff heavy set. Johnannes has a very melodic rock voice and led the band with confidence and an outright professional demeanor. Dressed complimentary to Grohl in black on black with a black sport coat, they opened with a cut off the album, Reel to Reel the concert is promoting, “A Trick With No Sleeve” and followed with three songs from a L.A. 90’s hard rock outfit AJ founded called Eleven, and the aforementioned QOTSA song.

A Trick With No Sleeve
All My Friends
Hanging Tree
Reach Out

Chris Goss & Brad Wilk

Chris Goss is the founding member of late 80’s, early 90’s hard rock band Masters of Reality, mostly known as part of a scene labeled “The Palm Desert,” linking them to QOTSA and Josh Homme’s other band Kyuss. Brad Wilk was the drummer of Rage Against the Machine, who recorded their first self titled album at Sound City. The band rounded out with, of course, Grohl on guitar, Al Johannes returned to play bass and Rami Jaffee on keys.

This would be the only time during the night a non-Foo Fighter would play drums. This separated this set from the pack. Wilk played admirably, but for someone like myself, obsessed with Grohl and Hawkins’ work, it made me, well, even more appreciate what they bring to the table. Goss came out firing, with a sort of cocky, flamboyant, “I’m prettier than you” stage presence, telling the audience to, “shake your ass, bitches!” It was an entertaining set, considering I didn’t know any of the music, never really discovering  Masters of Reality (four of the five songs played), I would definitely check the band out from what I saw. The Reel to Reel original was a song called, “Time Slowing Down.” 

She Got Me
It’s Shit
Time Slowing Down
The Blue Garden

Lee Ving

1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4…LEE VING! BLAH! SPLAT! Done.

I would love to write this blurb in the language displayed for this set, but it would be too inaudible. Ving was the leader of an 80’s Ramones style punk band called Fear. Their song structures are lightning quick and punchy, usually ending before you know they started. It’s quite a joyous ride. Ving was joined by Hawkins, Grohl, Pat Smear and Johannes.

Ving dressed in a denim jacket straight out of his time, seemed to be the happiest to a part of the Sound City Players, and that’s saying a lot since the night was full of smiles and giddy nostalgia. Fear recorded their first record, appropriately named, The Record (1982) at Sound City. The rest of their album titles I’m pretty sure have the word “beer” in them, so that’s what we’re dealing with. Unadulterated fun.

They opened with the Reel to Reel collaboration, “Your Wife is Calling” and continued to rollick through five Fear classics, before one could count to five. The true test of how fast you have to play this music is, Pat Smear, actually looked like he was playing guitar. If you’ve ever seen Pat play, he never really looks like he’s doing anything, but in this case he seemed to have to focus a tad.

Your Wife is Calling
I Love Living in the City
Gimmie Some Action
Beef Bologna
I Don’t Care About You
Foreign Policy

Rick Nielson & Krist Noveselic

Rick Nielson is the chief songwriter, lead guitarist and backing vocalist of Cheap Trick. He is known for flashy guitars and a quirky persona. Krist Noveselic, of course, is Grohl’s bassist buddy from Nirvana and most recently a cameo bassist on, “I Should Have Known” from Wasting Light and occasional bass and/or accordion appearance during the tour.

Not to long ago, there was a benefit concert for Sandy victims at MSG. I believe the exact date was 12.12.12, and this particular show made a HUGE deal about a Nirvana reunion, which turned into the start of this actual tour promoting The Sound City Players. They played one song, with Sir Paul McCartney, it rocked, but ultimately all the hype made the whole “this is a Nirvana reunion” drip with a depressing edge of sorrow for many. For those fans that paid so much money to attend that benefit for the Nirvana reunion, and come on, there were many this happened to, they missed out BIG TIME if they weren’t at this show, because THIS is where it was at.

Nirvana reunion. Rick Nielson of Cheap Trick. Jaffee on keys. Taylor Hawkins on vocals, hammering out Cheap Trick songs! When the curtain came up Taylor was belting, “GOOD EVENING LADIES AND GENTLEMAN...ARE YOU READ TO ROCK!?” I think my head exploded a tad.

There was so much to feast your eyes upon during this set. For one, Taylor Hawkins was going bat-shit crazy!? I’ve never seen him so amped up! He must have been slugging Red Bull’s or was just intrinsically jacked to be in such a “dream band” position to sing Cheap Trick songs with Rick Nielson (he said as much, but still). If you’ve ever seen Taylor Hawkins & the Coattail Riders, he is so shy at times you almost feel for him a little bit having to play the role of bandleader. Most of the time, he references how happy he is to just live behind his drum set and do his thing. He was waving towels, jumping around, there may have even been a kick and some rock spins, as he was just circling the stage like a released wildebeest. I was loving it, yet it was so out of character I was honestly slightly worried about him…  

Rick Neilson just has the personality of a zany rock star. I really don’t think he’s the kind of guy that could just blend in anywhere. The man knows how to explore the stage space. Between himself and Taylor Hawkins, it’s amazing to think that Dave Grohl playing drums would ever be the third most exciting thing happening on a stage. That’s how I felt about it, but perhaps I’ve been spoiled to see Dave play a number of times, whereas, I didn’t know a great deal about Rick Neilson. I’ve always thought Cheap Trick was an endearing kind of kitschy. Obviously, the point of the Sound City Players, besides collaboration with a heart of integrity, was to bring some of these names an audience like myself, a better appreciation of such rock splendor.

Hello There
Stiff Competition
If You Want Me
Ain’t That a Shame (Fats Domino cover)

Rick Springfield

Rick Springfield as an Australian singer-songwriter and actor, best known for his #1 single “Jesse’s Girl” in 1981. He had another handful or two of moderately successful hits. Basically, everyone knows him, everyone loves him. Springfield is the quintessential example of someone that would really benefit from a show like this. I would NEVER go see Rick Springfield on his own, but with my favorite band as the backing band, why not?! And, seriously, he shined very bright under the Hammerstein lights. For a man of his age, he is in ridiculous shape, chiseled from General Hospital diamonds.

They employed the “Free Bird” approach, having the Foo Fighters return, with Grohl, Shiftlett and Smear joining Springfield on guitar. I can’t remember the bassists name, but it’s not truly the Foo Fighters with Nate Mendel, and there was Jaffee on keys. A real full, yet tight, punch you in the face rock sound.

The funniest moment of the whole show for me, was when he wanted to take off his leather jacket. Somehow, it became kind of a spectacle that he was taking off his jacket and Dave Grohl was the guy to go find a place off stage for it. They had a good timing about it, that made it seem almost rehearsed, but I chock it up to two nice guys with a knack for working a crowd. Grohl acted slightly miffed that HE was the one taking his, “sweaty jacket” and Springfield carried on like that’s exactly what it’s supposed to be like. It reminded me of seeing Grohl on the There’s Nothing Left to Lose tour bring a stagehand out to literally cut a sleeve on his right hand, because it was affecting his guitar playing. He worked the crowd similarly, mimicking the role of rock star diva. I just couldn’t help but flash back at the full circle candor.

Springfield really made a believer out of me. He commanded the audience like he was the biggest star on the bill. Grohl and Springfield continued to work the crowd like the Smothers Brothers, when it was time to play “Jesse’s Girl” these teased it out, having Springfield play a few seconds of the intro, to which the crowd went bananas. Grohl then commented, “EVERYBODY in the world knows your song after three fucking chords…teach me! Teach me your wisdom, Rick.” Somewhere in the middle of the set, similarly, without hesitation, Grohl would giddily gush, “I Love Rick Springfield!”

I guess I do too. I just didn’t full realize how much until now.

The Man That Never Was (Reel to Reel original)
I’ve Done Everything For You (Sammy Hagar cover)  
Love is Alright Tonite
Jesse’s Girl

John Fogerty

In my family when it comes to music, there are only a handful of artists we can ALL agree upon. With some of us on the rock side and others on the country side, Creedence Clearwater Revival is the undisputed go-to if everyone is going to be happy. You can throw on any album and just let it run, everyone is cool.

The guy couldn’t have seemed more down to Earth. CCR sold 26 million albums and Fogerty is parading around on stage in flannel and smiles as if he’s leading a wedding cover band. I honestly for a moment thought it was my Uncle John up there. Especially, when he came to play recent baseball Hall of Fame ballad, “Centerfield” on a baseball bat guitar. In some right, it would seem they went through the trouble to make a special guitar for a song, but it didn’t seem hokey. It seemed like a prized possession of my Uncle John. That’s what Uncle John does, he plays hit songs on baseball bats with strings, and hastily asks Dave about the Mets.

On the Echoes, Patience, Silence and Grace tour, one of the chosen covers was “Born on the Bayou,” so it was great to hear Grohl and Fogerty trade versus on all these classic songs, together. When on stage with Uncle John, Grohl sang the songs in a karaoke style, basically mimicking that classic southern growl. That’s right, I’m suggesting Dave Grohl has to play a character to growl, which is slightly different to how they do Foo Fighters versions of covers on tour.

This set had the most songs, but for some reason seemed the shortest. Between the inaudible banter Fogerty would utter between songs (could not understand a word of his plain speaking), the never ending string of hits and everyone coming together as a family for some BBQ supper music—the night had that Christmas dinner feeling to it. You’re kind of exhausted and bloated (in this case, from rock goodness), but you know the gift opening session has yet to commence.

Travelin’ Band
Born on the Bayou
Keep on Chooglin’
Bad Moon Rising
Proud Mary
Fortunate Son

Stevie Nicks

It didn’t take long for Stevie Nicks to put this show in perspective, “we were the first ones to record in Sound City,” she clamored, early in her set, referring to the rare Buckingham Nicks album from 1973. This also marked a very notable shift in the dynamic of the show. Early on, the artists seemed to be enthralled to be playing with Grohl; toward the middle of the show there was a sense of joint partnership; but when Nicks took the stage, there was no question who was in charge. The lights were a little darker, but Nicks was shining with radiance, glowing like a Californian gypsy sorceress, donning sun glasses (she took them off mid set), displaying eloquent open-armed tribal dancing and gyrating alongside the microphone as if she were an aged hologram from 1976.

The audience was putty in her hands.

It was near impossible not to be moved when she told the tale of coming together with Grohl to write “You Can’t Fix This,” for her 18-year old godson who died at a fraternity party. Between that, and one of my all-time favorite songs, “Dreams” everyone was fighting back waterworks or at least a bit of mist. The air was heavy, but the music was mystifying.  The tenderness of the crowd during the delicate “Landslide” with just Grohl on guitar and total audience cooperation keeping a harsh silence for the soft parts and harmonizing respectfully with the chorus, reminding ourselves, that we are in fact getting older.

The closing number was what seemed like a 20-piece version of a near metal number by Fleetwood Mac, “Gold Dust Woman.” I kind of forgot how hard the song rocks, and it gained obvious kinetic energy having the backing music come this group of hard-hitters. Nicks would howl with all the passion and grit of Roger Daultry’s scream in “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” It was an absolute avalanche from rock’s greatest female Goddess.

As someone who’s never felt the presence, I’m elated to put that on my concert resume. Isn’t that what collaboration is all about: taking each other’s talents to new heights, simply with presence and hard work?  

Stop Dragging My Heart Around (Tom Petty cover)
You Can’t Fix This
Gold Dust Woman

Closing Thoughts

I have a hard time not referencing Denny Green, “They are who we thought they were!?!?” You felt the star power at this show. You also felt the passion of collaboration, and what personalities mean in the art of making music. If there were to be a mathematical equation or a scientific experiment to prove this with moving variables—this show was it. Seeing most of the same people trade places around and bringing in a new face or two over the course of a handful of different sets, really let artist personality shine the brightest.

For instance, seeing the Foo Fighters, even though they didn’t play any Foo Fighters songs, play without Nate Mendel just seemed different. More than I thought it would. Hearing how different the world sounds with Wilk, Hawkins and Grohl trading drum stools. How thick you can make something sound by adding more guitars. How a rock band can make California Gypsy music, but with a thicker rock edge.

If you’re obsessed with these elements of integrity, passion, theatrics, personality and unique music experiences, this was as superlative as it gets. THE BEST. THE BEST. THE BEST!!

But, you knew that already, right? 

Author's Note: Let's hope this era of me not having a fucking photo pass ends soon. Please don't take these pictures as a representation of my pictorial abilities. I was standing behind a couple of trees about 20 rows back, and my resistance to being a technology dick, doesn't allow me to hold a steady, high position for a long period of time, because I HATE to inconvenience, similarly, the person behind ME. I took quick pictures, hoping for the best, that ended up kind of giving me an idea what was going on, but don't really shine the majesty of these beautiful artists the way I wanted them to. I apologize. In the future, I will get to the concert earlier, or move my way up to photo pass territory. 

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