2013, the Year of Dave Grohl
Grohl jolted us when he arose from the ashes of Nirvana as the frontman of The Foo Fighters, but no one could have predicted how far his passions would eventually take him. As the most popular and one of the most sought-after drummers around, this guy’s the Bonham of our generation. He continuously proves himself as the musician that never quits, but hey, maybe it’s just all of those fresh pots. In recent news alone, he has given word of another contribution with Queens of the Stone Age, reminded us about the true love that can exist with music as Keynote Speaker at SXSW and just finished up a tour where he shared the stage with many of his personal heroes. But above all these things, his most impressive output is his directorial debut, Sound City. As Grohl told Rolling Stone, “It’s the most important thing I’ve done, because it’s not for me.”
The documentary takes us on a trip back to the heyday of the recently fallen Sound City Studios, where legends like Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty and Neil Young recorded seminal records. As the film moves through time, the studio struggles to coexist in a world with Pro Tools and other emerging digital technologies that arguably turn art into craft. Still, the studio continued producing worthy outputs with the help of bands like Weezer, Nirvana and Rage Against the Machine. But in the end, Sound City just couldn’t keep up with a transforming industry. The film celebrates a studio from a bygone era where things couldn’t be made perfect with tools like automation, pitch-correction, and simple copy-and-paste editing.
The documentary ends where Real to Reel begins. Grohl transports Sound City’s famed analog console, the Neve 8028, into his own 606 Studios. There, Grohl and friends (a.k.a. an onslaught of some of rock’s key players and Grohl’s personal heroes) do what they do best, take to loudness with their instruments and all of their human imperfections.
Unfortunately for Grohl-ophiles and music-lovers alike, Real to Reel doesn’t hold up as well as the documentary. The film’s advocation of the “human element” in music isn’t a strong enough thread to hold together so diverse a cast. The compilation comes off as a playlist rather than a collection of songs that celebrate an era. Let’s just say that when an album segues from Rick Springfield to Lee Ving, there are going to be some continuity problems.
Perhaps it’s Paul McCartney’s track with the remaining members of Nirvana where we best hear this “human element” that Grohl so reveres. This standout track, “Cut Me Some Slack,” is a true testament to the sentiment that rock ‘n’ roll is intuitive. The “Helter Skelter”-esque track is filled to the brim with intensity and was written and recorded in a grand total of three hours.
Other standout tracks include the fiery opener “Heaven and All” and “Your Wife is Calling,” where Fear’s Lee Ving provides us with a taste of what life has become for a domesticated punker. But perhaps the greatest of all is the Homme-Reznor-Grohl contribution, “Mantra.” The album version is far busier than the minimalist groove we watched the trio lay down in the documentary, but still, the heady track properly salutes the crumbled pre-digital empire with a mournful declaration: “All of this will never be the same.”