Saturday, July 9, 2011


First off, I have to thank Jeff Garden for reaching out and offering to let me use his photos.  Follow him on Twitter. Jeff captured some really cool pictures.

About two months ago, I asked "Do You Really Want To See Soundgarden Live?" It was a review of their recently released Live On I-9 collection, made up of recordings from their final tour. I saw them twice during that era - both times on the Lollapalooza tour. Their album, Down On The Upside, was my favorite LP of the year.  But seeing them live was a total disappointment and Metallica smoked them both times. I didn't know it at the time, but Soundgarden was hurtling swiftly towards breaking up. A few years earlier, I saw them on the Superunknown tour at the Armory in New York City, which was one of the worst gigs I'd ever seen. Of course, I'd seen some good shows too - notably when they opened for Neil Young and, before that, when they opened for Voivod.

In recent years, I've seen drummer Matt Cameron with Pearl Jam, and he's always tremendous (as he always was with Soundgarden).  I've also seen Chris Cornell, both with Audioslave and on solo tours. Those shows were better than most of the Soundgarden shows I'd seen. More importantly, Chris' voice held up incredibly well at those shows, which was sometimes a problem during the Soundgarden days (you can hear it on Live On I-9).  But that's all in the past: it was his recent solo acoustic show that convinced me that I had to see Soundgarden on this reunion tour.

It may be blasphemous, but I'll say it.  I think Soundgarden is a better live band now than in the '90s.  Everyone seems pretty clean, and also, I think the guys in the band appreciate their position now, where in the '90s, there seemed to be a bit of embarrassment involved in being part of a huge band. Ben Shepherd in particular seemed to hate playing in front of large audiences (which is odd, as he joined the band after Louder Than Love, when they were already on a major label).

The concert in Newark, at the Prudential Center, was incredible.  Chris sounded great.  Guitarist Kim Thayil is still an evil genius: he is the scariest sounding guitarist this side of Tony Iommi. Matt was amazing of course. And Ben didn't seem to mind playing to a huge crowd, his bass playing was enthused and menacing.   The setlist was almost all from 1989's Louder Than Love, 1991's Badmotorfinger and 1994's Superunknown. They played one song from their 1988 SST album Ultramega OK ("Beyond The Wheel," I would have loved to hear "All Your Lies"), nothing from their SubPop era, and only two songs from their final album, 1996's Down On The Upside.

They opened with a song I was really hoping to hear: Badmotorfinger's "Searching With My Good Eye Closed." It was a great way to start, it is one of their best, even though it never was a radio hit.  Not that they ignored the hits: they went right into "Spoonman" (they also played "My Wave," "Outshined," "Rusty Cage," "Burden In My Hand," "Black Hole Sun," "Fell On Black Days" and "Blow Up The Outside World").  But they eschewed some of their more well known songs for lesser known ones, which was a nice touch (although I was bummed that they didn't play "Let Me Drown," one of my favorites). They did pulverizing versions of some of their heaviest songs, like "Hands All Over," "Superunknown," "Room A Thousand Years Wide" and their most underrated tune, "Slaves and Bulldozers." But the thing that Chris' solo tour spotlighted is that he's also a great ballad singer, and that was happening in full effect with  "The Day I Tried To Live," "Burden," "4th of July," "Black Days" and "Like Suicide," they were all incredibly soulful.

They also played "Black Rain," their "new" song from last year's career spanning collection Telephantasm, (a song I thought was kind of eh, it's an outtake from Badmotorfinger, and deserved to be an outtake). Chris mentioned that they are working on a new album, and at this point, I'm really looking forward to hearing it.  Although I haven't loved too many of Chris' songs on his post-Audioslave solo albums, I thought part of the problem was that he didn't have a Kim Thayil with him, calling him on it when he's writing beneath his abilities.  Meanwhile, Matt has developed as a songwriter with Pearl Jam (writing or co-writing "Evacuation," "You Are," "Unemployable" and "The Fixer").  Kim has been in semi-retirement, I'm sure he has some great riffs built up after all these years.  You always have to manage your expectations, but I am definitely optimistic about one of my favorite bands ever re-activating. I hope to see and hear more of Soundgarden in 2012!

(P.S. I got there too late to see the openers, Coheed & Cambria, but if you saw them, please tell me how they were in the comments).

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