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Sound City review: Rock's hallowed hall

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Sound City Documentary. Directed by Dave Grohl. (Not rated. 107 minutes.)

What drew several generations of now-famous rock ‘n’ rollers to the Sound City recording facility wasn’t its unchic location in Van Nuys, nor the crummy building that housed it, and certainly not the awful decor of the studio itself (including shag carpeting on the walls).

The attractions were first-rate technology in the form of an expensive recording console designed by the much-lauded British electronics engineer Rupert Neve, and acoustics that, apparently by accident, had a highly desirable effect on drum sounds.

Soon after the studio opened in 1969, a couple of unknown performers, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, recorded an album there that drew the attention of Mick Fleetwood. Neil Young used the studio for “After the Gold Rush.” The floodgates were opened, and many big stars came to Van Nuys: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the Grateful Dead, Johnny Cash, John Fogerty, Pat Benatar, Foreigner, Cheap Trick and Rick Springfield were among Sound City’s eventual clients.

Of all the studio’s aficionados, perhaps the most smitten was Dave Grohl, who recorded there both as a member of Nirvana and with his own band, Foo Fighters. “Sound City” is Grohl’s first effort at filmmaking, and if it doesn’t break any ground as a documentary, it’s a heartfelt testament to a place he considers among the most hallowed halls of rock.

Grohl is such a fan of Sound City that, when it closed, he bought the Neve console and installed it in his own studio. He’s unearthed lots of fascinating archival footage and has gotten quite a few top names to talk at length: Young, Petty, Nicks and Springfield in particular are given major camera time.With sadness, Grohl recounts how the arrival of software like Pro Tools meant that anyone could achieve at least somewhat professional recording results at a very low cost, and the clock was ticking on analog dinosaurs like Studio City. Though the filmmaker is no fan of digital recording, he does allow one of the technology’s well-known supporters, Trent Reznor, to make a case for it.

The film ends with footage of some new material that’s been recorded on the Neve, including an impressively raw number, “Cut Me Some Slack,” featuring Grohl with two former Nivana colleagues, Pat Smear and Krist Novoselic, and one of Grohl’s mega-heroes, Paul McCartney.

Walter Addiego / San Francisco Chronicle / Thursday, January 31, 2013

Walter Addiego is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: wa******@sf*********.com

Copyright 2013 San Francisco Chronicle

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