Perhaps you’ve never heard of the Sound City Players—they’ve only performed a few shows, after all—but surely you’ve heard of its members: Stevie Nicks, John Fogerty, Rick Springfield, Lee Ving and Foo Fighters, along with members of Rage Against The Machine, Cheap Trick, Nirvana, Queens of the Stone Age and Masters of Reality.
The ringleader of this wildly eclectic lineup is rock bon vivant Dave Grohl, who assembled the collection of artists, the connecting thread being that they all happen to appear in his recent Sound City documentary. Thus it was Grohl who shepherded the group to Manhattan’s resplendent Hammerstein Ballroom on Wednesday and took the stage announcing, “It’s gonna be a long f------ night…but you knew that already, right?”
Foo Fighters’ longtime sound provider, Camarillo, CA-based Delicate Productions, provided console packages and monitors for the event, while Edgewood, NY's RSA Audio Services supplied stacks and racks. FOH engineer Bryan Worthen mixed the genre-busting show on a DiGiCo SD5 console, with outboard racks that included four Avalon 747 compressor/limiters and three Midas XL42 EQs, sending audio to the RSA-provided JBL VerTec rig of dual 10-box main arrays, powered by Crown XTi 4000 amplifiers. Tackling monitors for the perpetually shifting lineup on stage was engineer Ian Beveridge, riding herd over 14 d&b audiotechnik M2 wedges and a variety of Sennheiser IEM systems via a Midas Pro6 console. Techs on site included Delicate's system tech Kenny Kaiser, and RSA's tech, Rob Grant.
Set in the cavernous, 12,000-square-foot Hammerstein Ballroom—built as an opera house a century ago despite the name—the concert found Foo Fighters performing solely as a backing band; in fact, nary a Foos song was heard over the course of the three-and-a-half-hour show. Kicking off with clips from the Sound City documentary, the night progressed with 4-6 song mini-sets, working through sludge rock from the likes of QOTSA members Alain Johannes and Chris Goss, and then a set of old-school L.A. punk from Fear vet Lee Ving.
Things finally sparked to life with the arrival of Cheap Trick's Rick Neilsen and Nirvana's Krist Novoselic on stage, as they tore through a brace of Cheap Trick anthems with Grohl behind the drum kit while Foo Fighters' drummer Taylor Hawkins grabbed the spotlight for an excellent Robin Zander impression.
Rick Springfield hit the stage next, his Pop-Rock sound landing squarely on the ROCK side, what with the Foos behind him. Clearly stoked to be a part of the evening, Springfield focused on shaking off decades of Las Vegas showbiz and winning over the skeptical audience. It was an effort Grohl certainly endorsed, too, announcing, “The man wrote a song that everybody knows from the first three notes. Teach me, Rick, teach me—you’re my Yoda, dude!” While he may never get the latter-day cultural reassessment afforded another former teen idol named Rick (Nelson), it’s fair to say that if a performance of “Jessie’s Girl” could be termed “eye-opening,” this was probably it. Springfield proved to be the surprise of the night and unquestionably brought the rock.
John Fogerty took the stage to knock out a pleasant, meat-and-potatoes set of exactly the Creedence Clearwater Revival tracks you’d expect—“Proud Mary,” “Bad Moon Rising” and “Born on the Bayou” among them—and “Centerfield,” performed with Fogerty playing a baseball bat-shaped guitar. Given Foo Fighters’ classic rock leanings, the team-up was a natural one, particularly on the set closer, a fiery, bellowing run through “Fortunate Son” that was one of the evening’s highpoints.
Closing out the festivities was Stevie Nicks, completely on her game as she and Grohl traded lines on her classic Tom Petty duet, "Stop Dragging My Heart Around,” before going into the intense “You Can’t Fix This,” co-written with the Foos for the upcoming Sound City soundtrack. While all the performers throughout the evening had peppered their sets with tracks written for the film, this song, reminiscent of Tusk-era Fleetwood Mac, was the standout among the new material.
The night ended with a hellacious take on "Gold Dust Woman"—a song that I've never particularly liked, but here it was wonderfully spellbinding: An incredibly hypnotic, wailing, HEAVY grind that (thankfully) went on forever. And with that, it was over—no encores, no all-star jam, no final bow of everyone who’d graced the stage. Perhaps there was no need—the walls of the Hammerstein will still be ringing with the sound of the Sound City Players for some time to come. If nothing else, it showed that if the Grammy-winning, world-touring, hard rock thing doesn't work out for Foo Fighters, they'll probably be able to scrape by as an excellent cover band.