Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Ultimate Jam Session

Sound City       Final Cut Score: 95%

I'll never forgive my mom for letting me quit piano lessons. After years and years months and months days and days of finger-mangling practices, she let me drop it quicker than dudes kick Taylor Swift to the curb.

Now it's not like I've been tortured by the topic for the past thirty-plus years but the thought bubbled straight to the top of mind after watching the musical geniuses get after it in Dave Grohl's documentary Sound City, an electrifying and enthralling labor of love that acts as a defibrillator for your creative juices.

So what exactly is Sound City? It's a rundown dump of a music studio situated in a nondescript row of concrete warehouses in LA's San Fernando Valley. But it's far from any ordinary "shithole" (as REO Speedwagon's Kevin Cronin puts it), this is the joint where Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers recorded "Refugee", Pat Benatar cut "Hit Me with Your Best Shot" and Rick Springfield laid down "Jesse's Girl". Oh yeah, this moderately successful band named "Fleetwood Mac" was formed in this "shithole".

Did I mention Nirvana's "Nevermind" was produced in said "shithole"?

Why Sound City? Pin it on what über-producer Rick Rubin calls "luck and magic"; the physical structure of the former amplifier factory miraculously created the most pristine drum sound — ever. Mick Fleetwood cops to picking the place due to the untouchable quality of percussion.

The other draw that brought in the big guns? The studio's custom-made, limited-limited-limited edition Neve console, an audio command center of knobs, switches, buttons and faders that allowed for an unheard of – godlike – level of precision in analog recording.

Ah yes, the analog thing. Remember when music was recorded on tape, not via laptop? Those were Sound City's glory days. Once the digital revolution kicked in, not so much. Bands abandoned the tangible and embraced the intangible – Pro Tools in, cutting audio tape out. It's from that paradigm shift and the subsequent fallout that the film's soul takes root.

Grohl asks: What's the value of truth? Of integrity? Of doing things live? The Foo Fighters frontman displays his affinity for tangibility by ripping the Neve board clean out of the defunct "shithole" and plugging the behemoth into his new Studio 606, inviting the menagerie of Sound City's musical icons over for the ultimate jam session and resulting LP – those circular things pressed on vinyl.

Culminating in a Nirvana reunion with Sir Paul McCartney subbing for Kurt Cobain, Sound City is a guitar solo sent straight from heaven, a cinematic song of beauty, an ass-kicking jolt of creativity — it will make you want to do something. Be something — be fully alive.

You know what? This Dave Grohl dude could have a future in this filmmaking thing.