Dave Grohl performs with the Sound City Players at Stubb’s during SXSW 2013 on Thursday, March 14, 2013 in Austin, Texas.
Dave Grohl performs with the Sound City Players at Stubb's during SXSW 2013 on Thursday, March 14, 2013 in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Austin American-Statesman, Jay Janner)

Dave Grohl kicked off the Sound City Players' showcase on Thursday at South by Southwest by telling fans exactly what to expect from the evening.

"Ladies and gentlemen, it's going to be a long (expletive) night," said the rock star best known for leading the Foo Fighters and, before that, drumming for Nirvana. "Buckle up!"

With that, the capacity crowd at Stubb's immediately got a lengthy opening set led by (wait for it) Alain Johannes.

Really?

No knock on this guitarist, who worked alongside Grohl in Them Crooked Vultures, but it certainly wasn't the start that we were looking for from what promised to be an all-star show.

Fortunately, things would grow more impressive from there, as Grohl played band leader and emcee during this celebration of his "Sound City" film.

The movie, which screened on Wednesday at SXSW and has already had its theatrical run in many parts of the country, is a documentary about Los Angeles' legendary Sound City recording studios. That's the place that gave birth to such great artistic and commercial triumphs as Nirvana's "Nevermind," Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours," Neil Young's "After the Gold Rush," Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' "Damn the Torpedoes" and "Rage Against the Machine."

Grohl's Sound City Players are a revue of this recording studio's alum, including both big names (John Fogerty, Stevie Nicks and, of course, Grohl and his fellow Foo Fighters), lesser-known talents (Johannes,

Fear's Lee Ving and Slipknot's Corey Taylor, sans mask) and one retro favorite (Rick Springfield!).

Many of the key players took turns fronting the band, performing generous - in some cases, too generous - sets of songs. Grohl and other musicians (notably, his Foos) backed up the singers.

There was plenty of filler, but also some killer (moments). A number of them came early in the night when Nicks -- whose documentary film, "In Your Dreams: Stevie Nicks," was screened at SXSW earlier in the day -- was onstage.

Nicks' voice wasn't great, but most of the songs sure were. The band delivered fantastic versions of such Fleetwood Mac classics as "Dreams," "Gold Dust Woman" and, especially, "Landslide," which featured pretty much everyone in the house singing harmony.

Green Day delivers glorious night of music

There was really only conclusion to be made after watching Green Day perform on Friday night:

Billie's back.

Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day performs at the SXSW Music Festival, on Friday, March 15, 2013 in Austin, Texas.
Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day performs at the SXSW Music Festival, on Friday, March 15, 2013 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Jack Plunkett/Invision/AP Images)


Vocalist-guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong, whose substance abuse problems landed him in rehab and momentarily derailed his East Bay punk-pop band's career, was in herculean form during Green Day's showcase at the South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival.

His vocals were on spot. His guitar licks were sensational. And, most significant, he was back to being the charismatic, playful and exuberant frontman who millions of fans fell in love with in the first place.

It couldn't have come at a better time.

Although there was no official proclamation, it certainly felt like it was Green Day Day in Austin, Texas on Friday.

Besides the concert -- Green Day's first major performance since Armstrong's rehab stint -- the day also featured screenings of both new Green Day documentaries as part of the SXSW film festival.

The first was "Broadway Idiot," a highly polished documentary that recounts the path of the band's "American Idol" musical from its conception to its debut at Berkeley Repertory Theatre to, eventually, a hit run on Broadway. The second was "Cuatro!," which documents the recording of Green Day's three new albums -- "Uno!," "Dos!" and "Tre!," all of which were released in a span of just over two months in the fall. Both films were extremely well received by audiences.

Yet, fans reserved even greater enthusiasm for the nightcap, roaring at the mere sight of Green Day taking the stage at the lovely Austin City Limits Live! venue and only growing more rambunctious as the evening progressed.

And Armstrong still had them all beat.

He was a regular whirlwind, basically from start to finish. Yet, his energy was focused and everything he did benefitted the show. This was definitely not the Armstrong who caused such a scene in September at the iHeartRadio festival in Las Vegas. This version resembled the Armstrong who helped push Green Day to new heights after the release of "American Idiot" in 2004.

The rest of the band was right there with him. Bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tre Cool combined to once again form one of the best rhythm sections that punk-pop has ever known. And the band's fourth member, guitarist Jason White, provided plenty of truly heroic leads.

Yes, Green Day has a fourth member. According to what was heard in "Cuatro!," as well as what was listed in the film's credits, the longtime sideman is now officially a member of the band. And, yes, it will take some time (probably years, actually) before referring to Green Day as anything other than a trio sounds right. (Old habits die hard, you know?)

The set list was a delightful mix of longtime favorites and new tunes. As expected, it was a treat to hear the band run through such old hits as "Welcome to Paradise," "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," "Know Your Enemy" and "Jesus of Suburbia." Yet, it was nearly as fun to hear the quartet perform selections from the three new albums.

And it was really a blast to watch Green Day get under the covers - performing a number of snippets from such well-known hits as Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child o' Mine," AC/DC's "Highway to Hell" and the Beatles' "Hey Jude."

In all, the concert served as evidence that Green Day is ready, willing and able to leave all its troubles behind and just focus on rocking crowds.

Follow Jim Harrington at http://twitter.com/jimthecritic.

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© 2013 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)

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