Rock solos should only go so long, but in the documentary Sound City, Dave Grohl doesn't care. With his charisma and musical talents and the lineup of rock stars he surrounds himself with in the film and studio, it works out really well, even with his personal indulgences.
The movie takes its name from the legendary Van Nuys, Calif. recording studio where Nirvana recorded Nevermind in 1991. It's also a self-portrait of Grohl, from climbing in a van with Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic to his present fame. The behind-the-scenes rock star party goes from photos and accounts of Sound City's past to footage recorded during the making of Grohl's most recent project, the album Sound City: Reel to Reel.
The documentary begins with the creation of Sound City studio and the purchase of its distinguishing equipment: a custom-built Neve console that allowed extremely high quality recording on tape in the early 1970s. Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks recorded Buckingham Nicks at Sound City and soon found themselves recording Fleetwood Mac's second self-titled album there, which put the studio in high demand. It wasn't until Rick Springfield recorded Working Class Dog that the studio realized massive financial success, and that kept the space busy for a decade. Music fans will enjoy listening to Neil Young, Mick Fleetwood, Tom Petty, Trent Reznor and many others talk about the nuts and bolts of recording and the happenstances that created particular bands and songs.
The movie also features interviews with staffers and assistants who worked at the studio. They recount stories of camaraderie with musicians as well the hard times on which Sound City fell when digital recording technology changed the industry in the 1980s. Grohl detours into a debate about what distinguishes artistry in a market where even relatively untalented musicians can create hits using a laptop and software that overcomes all sorts of flaws and deficiencies. It's a well-rounded debate, but it ends when Nirvana arrives at the nearly bankrupt Sound City in 1991. Nevermind has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide and the studio enjoyed a rebirth and another spree of busy years.
When Sound City finally closed in 2011, Grohl transplanted its heart, the Neve console, into his own studio. He invited a slew of musicians who recorded at Sound City over the decades to record with him, and then he invited his own rock 'n' roll idols, including Paul McCartney.
Grohl is far from the fearless, broke 21-year-old who joined Nirvana. He's got the business sense to make a movie (documercial?) about his own album. But the musicians are comfortable and candid with him, and that gives the film its tremendously genuine appeal. — WILL COVIELLO