What began Thursday with speculation about the reunited Soundgarden playing a secret show Friday night at Showbox at the Market as NudeDragons (an anagram of Soundgarden) led to a shitstorm of tweets and Facebook status updates on Friday when online-only tickets went on sale at 10am, selling out in minutes. Talk/rock radio jabberjaws couldn't shut up about it, nor could the rest of the country who have had the grunge coals burning under their ass since Lollapalooza announced Soundgarden would headline this summer's festival in Chicago.
The reunion revival train has been chugging along strong for years, and virtually every ex-band has decided to put down their past differences and regroup for the hell of it (if hell was money). With Pavement and Soundgarden now back together, it seems that the only band left to reform is the Smiths.
So what about this Soundgarden? Aside from lead guitarist Kim Thayil, bassist Ben Shepherd, and drummer Matt Cameron playing a few old Soundgarden songs with Tad Doyle last year at the Crocodile, Soundgarden has not played together since 1997. I had a hard time imagining how well they would sound together after all these years. Would Chris Cornell somehow try to wrap his laughable solo work into the set? Would the band update any of their songs, or better yet, would there be new songs?
Everything about the Showbox buzzed with grunge-y nostalgia. If someone wasn't wearing their old Soundgarden t-shirt, they were wearing a limited -edition $25 NudeDragons t-shirts they picked up at the merch table (which will likely fetch a pretty penny on ebay one day). Many of the great people at Sub Pop were in house, as were Mark Arm and Matt Lukin of Mudhoney, Eddie Vedder, photographer Charles Peterson, Built to Spill's Scott Plouf, and Exene Cervenka of Los Angeles punk legends X. There was plenty of joy and stories shared amongst the crowd—it was almost like a grunge reunion, all the old guards back on the scene for the night, as though the last decade never happened. DJ Self Administered Beatdown played some choice rock n roll slabs for two hours (hats off for dropping Big Black "He's A Whore"), leading up to the 10pm arrival of Soundgarden, ahem, NudeDragons.
Once the first notes of set opener "Spoonman" rang out, the sold-out crowd inched closer to the stage, whooping and hollering, raising their fists and requisite devil horns. It was a loud, fierce opener: Shepherd whirled his bass as the low end frequencies rippled across the room; Chris Cornell, manning the microphone and guitar, hoisted his mic stand high into the air; Thayil played effortlessly and precisely, almost looking uninterested by what he was playing; and Cameron pummeled his kit with utmost dexterity and power. Cornell's voice, often as much a detriment as an asset to the overall sound of the band, proved to be in top form, hitting those highest notes of "Flower" without any pitchy warbling. The sound blasted through the speakers so clearly, you could only faintly hear the entire crowd singing along.
Midway through the set, the band launched into two songs from their first single: "Hunted Down" and "Nothing To Say." The single, which has long been out of print, was re-released today by Sub Pop on limited transluscent orange vinyl as part of the onslaught of Record Store Day releases, not that Cornell knew anything about it. (Thayil had to correct him when said the reissued single would be available this summer.)
The banter was kept to a bare minimum, Cornell only offering his thank yous after every song. Likewise, the bandmates kept to themselves onstage, setting out to play what they were there to play. There were no noticeable wisecracks or friendly gesturing amongst each other. "Been there, done that, let's just play" seemed to be their mantra for the night.
And although it was a grunge show, where stage diving and crowd surfing was a staple back in the day, only one person got himself swimming over a sea of hands before security promptly brought him back down. No one breached the stage to huck him/herself over the audience. It was a little bit disappointing. Of course, half this crowd is now too old to do that shit anyway, so who can you blame?
For 100 minutes (which included a three-song encore that closed with the Doors' "Waiting For The Sun"), the band played hard, but not aggressive, sweating in their black t-shirts and tight pants, while Cornell thrashed around his shoulder length frizz hair. Most of the songs were from pre-'93, so there was no "Black Hole Sun" for an audience of grunge purists to boo about. No new songs were debuted, nor were any songs modernized or revamped. It was a set that stayed true to what it was, and that's about all you could hope for in a reunion. Soundgarden has its place in music history, and maybe the band can never again be what it once was. That said, history does repeat itself, and sometimes the results are much greater than you anticipated.
Complete setlist after the jump.
Setlist: 1. Spoonman 2. Gun 3. Searching With My Good Eye Closed 4. Rusty Cage 5. Beyond The Wheel 6. Flower 7. Ugly Truth 8. Fell On Black Days 9. Hunted Down 10. Nothing To Say 11. Loud Love 12. Blow Up The Outside World 13. Pretty Noose 14. Outshined 15. Slaves And Bulldozers Encore: 16. Get On The Snake 17. Big Dumb Sex 18. Waiting For The Sun