A lot of documentaries at the Sundance Film Festival are uplifting in spite of something (personal tragedy, political unrest, etc.), but  Dave Grohl’s passion project Sound City managees to sidestep that emotional pitfall.  It is the story of a beloved, albeit defunct, recording studio in L.A. which was home to the recording of some of rock & roll’s greatest albums (After the Gold Rush, Fleetwood Mac, Rage Against The Machine, Nevermind, to name only a few).   The Foo Fighters front man exhibits an intimate film with a playful nature, and the kind of forthright, unabashed enthusiasm for music performance that only Grohl himself could deliver.  Check out the rest of the review to find out more!

 

The Players

  • Director: Dave Grohl
  • Writers: Mark Monroe, Dave Grohl (Story)
  • Cast: Dave Grohl, Stevie Nicks, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Butch Vig, Lee Ving, Trent Reznor, Josh Homme, Taylor Hawkins, Krist Novocelic, Paul McCartney
  • Cinematographer: Kenny Stoff
  • Original Music: The Sound City Players

 

The Plot

For over four decades, Sound City Studios was one of the top recording studios in U.S., hosting legendary bands and allowing them to leave their marks on music history.  As technology advanced, the demand for high end analog recording studios diminished, leaving Sound City as a relic, harkening back to the good old days.  After closing their doors in 2011, Grohl decided to document the impact it had on the myriad artists who were touched by Sound City, and to collaborate with them, recording new music using the prized equipment from the old studio.

The Good

  • Bringing It All Back Home:  In addition to paying adequate tribute to an institution that helped establish his career, Grohl has made a very nostalgic film, and not just for himself, but for all fans of rock and roll.  It’s a 40 year retrospective, featuring archived footage of  rehearsals and recordings, and offering an intimate experience with the groups and albums that have no doubt shaped countless lives.
  • It’s All In the Mix:  This film sounds great.  It’s loud, and mixed with an incredibly full sound.  One key feature of Sound City Studios that drew so many  artists to record there was its unique (and serendipitous, somehow) acoustics, especially with regard to drums.  And thanks to a strong theatrical sound system and a well mixed sound track, the film is able to demonstrate exactly how special this sound is, rather than simply say so.  This becomes particularly important in the films third act, when we meet…
  • The Sound City Players:  After the studio was closedGrohl purchased their original, custom made analog mixing board to use in his own studio, and invites some of the top Sound City alumni to play with him and write new music.  And boy oh boy, the resulting sessions are just magic!  Stevie Nicks slides right back into her groove, Lee Ving sheds his age and plows through a punk tune, and Trent Reznor and Josh Homme meander through a hypnotic and pensive song.  But the real kicker is Paul McCartney.  It’s no surprise that rumors were sparked about McCartney fronting a Nirvana Reunion, because when he plays with Grohl and Krist Novocelic, he brings more energy to his performance than I thought he could even muster.  They sound as if they’ve been playing together for years.  The album that will surely come from this film will be a must have.

The Bad

  •  The only drawback of the film is that there is little emotional catharsis.  Or, at least, the catharsis belongs to Dave Grohl.  While everything about the film is impressive, it seems to stand more as an exhibition of cool footage and stories paying tribute to a place where all of these luminaries created their best work.    Their passion for this place and their fond anecdotes are fascinating, but the only real emotion the film really conveys is awe at the enormity of its stars talent.

Overall

I really enjoyed this movie.  Dave Grohl is so sincere and charming that his movie washes over the audience with great ease.   While Sound City doesn’t deliver a profound emotional experience, it is an exceptionally fun film, especially thanks to the new original music at the end.  There is one performance of the Sound City Players scheduled in Los Angeles, and I would encourage those who can to check it out by any means necessary.  If that’s not in the cards, then at least check outSound City.

Rating: 8/10