Seattle played a role in a number of movies at the Sundance Film Festival this year, but one of the most exciting connections came in music form: a joyous 40-song concert that brought all the living Nirvana members together again as stars from Dave Grohl’s “Sound City” documentary.
Early in Friday night’s Sound City Players show, Nirvana guitarist Pat Smear joined Grohl’s current band and the night’s backup players, the Foo Fighters, on stage for a punk-influenced mini-set with Fear frontman Lee Ving. Then bassist Krist Novoselic came on stage along with Rick Neilsen of Cheap Trick and Corey Taylor of Slipknot (who called himself a Nirvana “fan boy”) as Grohl hopped on drums for a few Cheap Trick songs. When else will you see Grohl playing drums on a Cheap Trick song?
Novoselic, who still lives in Washington, has performed and recorded with the Foo Fighters before, but it’s a rare treat to see the old bandmates perform together live.
Like Seattle, Grohl has moved way past the music of the 1990s. (“Don’t say the word ‘grunge’ to Dave,” Jim Rota, one of the “Sound City” producers, warned me during an interview. Don’t worry.) But in the movie, he looks back with great fondness at the times he shared with Novoselic and Kurt Cobain (Smear joined the band a few months before Cobain’s death in 1994).
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“Sound City” opens with a brief opening monologue introducing the movie’s subject mater: a now-defunct California recording studio where dozens of the last four decades’ most memorable albums were made. The next thing you see is Grohl retracing Nirvana’s road trip by beat-up van from Seattle to Sound City to record “Nevermind.” At the time, the band was barely scraping by; that album would launch it into superstardom.
With the movie, “We wanted to make something that that will inspire kids to go to a garage sale, buy a crappy guitar, go make crappy music” — and maybe launch their own Nirvanas, Grohl said in a press conference a few days after the concert.
The film is not just about the old studio, although the place where albums as disparate as Rick Springfield’s “Working Class Dog” and Nine Inch Nails’ “The Slip” came to life was no doubt special. It’s about the people who make music and the joy in the process, with all its imperfections — bits of personality the studio’s legendary analog Neve soundboard picked up perfectly but that are edited out in today’s slick digital productions.
“If it had been recorded anywhere else, it [“Nevermind”] might not have sounded like Nirvana. It would have sounded like something else,” Grohl said. “That board is just as responsible for my career as any musician I’ve ever played with.”
Even as he submitted the film to Sundance, Grohl was hoping to do a few concerts with his movie-related supergroup, and now that’s coming together. Of Friday night’s concert, Grohl said, “I was terrified that it was going to scare everyone away, but it was so awesome that people want to come on tour with us.”
This means more people will have a chance to hear the likes of John Fogerty and Rick Springfield play with Grohl again in New York, Los Angeles and London. For the rest of the world, the movie and a companion album will be available online at soundcitymovie.com starting in February.