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When Soundgarden released Superunknown in 1994 it catapulted them to unbelievable stardom. Despite being the first grunge band to sign to a major label in the late 80s, it was only now that they started receiving mainstream success. Black Hole Sun and Spoonman were on commercial rotation, earning them a couple of Grammys. Girls everywhere were falling in love with Chris Cornell’s dreamy eyes. I had a poster of Kim Thayil playing guitar on my bedroom wall.
But for a band who had their roots steeped in the sounds of Zeppelin and Sabbath, and who preferred to reject the “grunge” label, this brand of alternative rock, which was becoming more mainstream, proved to be too much for them. With it, the edges of the Seattle scene started to crumble. That same year Kurt Cobain died, Britpop started emerging, and by the late 90s Soundgarden released their final album and called it quits.
Fast-forward to 2010 and the band have reformed. So the question is, will these aging rockers (all now in their 50s) still be able to put on an energetic performance? And more importantly, will they be playing their old hits?
Opening with the dark and gothic Incessant Mace from their very early album, it’s essentially a warm up of what’s to come. By their second song, Hunted Down, off their first EP, a visual of a burning forest pops up behind them and Thayil’s guitar looks like it’s shooting flames as Cornell channels a commanding devil as he bellows, “They run to hunt you down.”
When Cornell addresses the crowd he assures us they’ll be playing a bunch of old and new stuff, and before we know it he starts repeating, “Jesus loves me,” before launching into the mad shredding of Jesus Christ Pose, followed in quick succession by Spoonman.
It’s a broad one-two to smooth the transition into a rare treat. Kyle Petty, Son Of Richard, a B-side from Superunknown single Fell On Black Days, receives its first-ever live airing, blanking the Johnny-come-latelys and enrapturing the hardcore acolytes.
From then on the energy really picks up and Cornell’s “pipes of God” – as lovingly described by comedian Marc Maron – are in full force. During A Thousand Days Before off their latest album King Animal, he enters into a call and response screaming match with the audience, ending in a long wail as he falls to the floor. And in one continuous shriek he belts through Beyond the Wheel in a style worthy of any 80s rock opera.
Eventually, the strain on Cornell’s voice is evident and after a satisfying stream of hits – The Day I Tried to Live, My Wave, Fell on Black Days, Black Hole Sun – you sense the croakiness in his voice. But it’s not long before he redeems himself with Burden in My Hand.
With songs spanning their entire catalogue, Cornell reminds the crowd of the journey, the hype, and the hustle the band has been through. After performing Flower, the first song off their debut LP, Cornell reminisces on their satisfaction when the band were signed to SST Records, the legendary label featuring bands like Black Flag and Husker Du. “Unfortunately that was brief but it was a great moment,” laments Cornell (Soundgarden signed to a total of six labels throughout their career).
Now, with the release of King Animal, they “don’t care about the record labels anymore”. Sticking it to the record industry, and supposedly all the label corporates they encountered, he says, “None of them have any jobs anymore, and I’m happy about that”.
The Telephantasm (Intro)
Jesus Christ Pose
Kyle Petty, Son of Richard (Live premiere)
A Thousand Days Before
Beyond the Wheel
Been Away Too Long
The Day I Tried to Live
Fell on Black Days
Black Hole Sun
Burden in My Hand
Slaves & Bulldozers