LIVE REPORT: Sound City Players
, February 21st, 2013 13:50
Dave Grohl's Sound City Players supergroup comes to London for a night of ROCK by MEN and their MAN friends of ROCK. It's a bit meh, says Marc Burrows
If you're going to witness the rebirth of the Nirvana rhythm section there are plenty of scenarios you'd pick before you got to "as a backing band for Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen", and in the unlikely event you did choose that team-up there's a whole slew of singers you'd wish to front it before you got to Foo Fighter's drummer Taylor Hawkins, not just far from the worlds greatest frontman, but far from the best frontman in the building, in fact he's a very long way from the best frontman on the stage, yet that's the line up - Drums: Grohl, Guitar: Smear, Bass: Novoselic, pratting around: Nielsen/Hawkins- that closes tonight's Sound City Players show.
It's frustrating for a number of reasons, and not just because Grohl & Co’s US gigs had been closing on a 15 minute version of 'Gold Dust Woman' with Stevie Nicks on vocals, and a sizeable chunk of tonight's audience are hoping for Paul McCartney, who collaborated with the trio recently. It's disappointing because the rest of the show has been so well put together, and because British audiences, especially British audiences made up mostly of 20-something Foo Fighters fans - have never really cared about Cheap Trick. It's disappointing because it sounds messy, feels indulgent, and like Neilson himself, looks a little bit naff, and it's disappointing because it seems to let down the entire concept.
This is the Sound City Players, a touring love letter to the hard rock of Grohl's early teens which like the excellent documentary that has inspired this short run of shows, is pitched as a celebration of sound, collaboration and an entrenched love of making music. A cast of dozens come and go, with the various members of the Foo Fighters essentially the house band, swapping in and out of the line up where necessary. Grohl himself switches between guitar, bass and - eventually - drums and acts as a good natured master of ceremonies, joking goofily as he tends to do.
It starts very well - multi-instrumentalist and sometime Queen Of The Stone age Alain Johannes leading the band through a jammy, groove-heavy set mostly made up of songs from his former band Eleven, with a welcome appearance of QOTSA’s ‘Hangin’ Tree’ and a bruising, brooding take on the Desert Session’s ‘Making A Cross’ before switching to bass to make room for Masters of Reality’s Chris Goss. It’s absolutely true to the intentions of the film - collaboration, chemistry and music for the sake of music. The same can be said for Fear’s Lee Ving, performing in London, unbelievably, for the first time, leading the Foos through a run of furious punk culminating in ‘I Don’t Care About You’, his trade mark yapping “ONETWOTHREFOUR” kicking each song into gear and given extra snotty punk cred when you notice Pat Smear, who lest we forget was in the Germs, grinning stage right. It’s awsome. And that’s where the wheels start to come off.
Next up is Rick Springfield, augmented by the full Foo Fighters back line for the first time tonight, and while their big, slick stadium sound is the perfect support to big, slick, stadium Rick, the audience are getting restless. For a start Springfield has a habit of throwing lines out for the crowd to sing before looking confused when they don’t know the words. Only ‘Jesse’s Girl’ manages to penetrate, but you feel it’s only Grohl holding his crowd’s hand for “one of the greatest songs of all time” that pulls the room through it- it’s Grohl that sells the song, getting Springfield to chug the first three notes to build excitement. It’s all entertaining enough, but the fundamental issue is that Rick Springfield was never a star in the UK, and while the youngish audience can get on board with Grohl’s musical education when it includes QOTSA and Kyuss collaborators playing heavy, doomy riifs and proto grunge or Ving’s full throttle punk, the radio friendly arena sheen of Springfield is harder to swallow. It’s unfortunate when you consider the Foo’s themselves have more than their fare share of shiny radio rock, but they at least had the alt.rock credentials to sell the sugar.
The finale needs to be something special. This is a £60-per-ticket show and sold out in hours, demand and expectations are thus set rather highly, especially when news reports throw around terms like ‘Star Studded’. But that finale never comes. Grohl introduces Novoselic to huge cheers, and Cheap Trick’s Nielsen to slightly less, as he takes the drum stool himself and brings Hawkins up front. The following set is fun, but compared to the slick, quadruple guitar noise of the previous section, or the locked in groove of the opening act, this feels messy. Smear and Neilsen throw plectrums at each other, Hawkins voice is buried in the mix and never really connects. ‘I Want You To Want Me’ raises some cheers, and a hard rock take on ‘Aint That A Shame’ is fun, but not really fun enough. Finally Grohl switches with Hawkins to take lead vocals for the only time tonight on Cheap Tricks ‘Surrender’. It’s underwhelming. The band leave. The lights go up. There’s no encore. People start to boo.
This wasn’t an awful show - at nearly three hours and featuring some great collaborations it did serve its purpose to a degree. It’s just a shame it’s second half was so misjudged, the ending so anticlimactic. But then as these shows are celebrating a recording studio that itself ended its days with a whimper rather than a bang, maybe that’s appropriate.