Soundgarden Sound Good

November 13, 2012

Irving Plaza
New York City

They announced the show one week ago and as they are the girlwife’s favorite band, I knew no stone would be left unturned in procuring tickets. With one phone call and a couple of prayers, she got the tickets.

Now, I am not Soundgarden’s biggest fan. In fact, in one of my stints on a college radio station prior to the grunge explosion, we received Louder  Than L0ve just prior to my show, appropriately titled The Sons of Nuns. So we dropped the needle on the first track…and removed the needle one minute later and stated our opinion. It was not favorable.

About a year later they were opening for Guns-n-Roses at Madison Square Garden and while they played, my friend and I stood outside selling our extra tickets.

I saw them about two years later on the second Lallapalooza, and by then grunge had exploded. But the truth was I was there to see Pearl Jam. If memory serves me correctly, they played right before Pearl Jam and were good. I own almost all their albums because even though I was not a huge fan, I was way into grunge and that Seattle…thing. For the most part, I’ve never been blown away by the band but have always respected them.

In preparation for the show, I spent he previous two days brushing up on the Soundgarden oeuvre. I realized my initial Sons of Nuns critique may have been a little harsh. I liked more of their work than I thought. Even more, it was actually good. I spent yesterday reading the Wiki pages on the band. Didn’t learn too much but I like to get my geek on now and then.

To say I was excited to see them would be a stretch. I wanted to see them for sure, I was more excited the girlwife was excited. So we, along with most of the New York City Generation X population, met outside of Irving Plaza to see one of the more anticipated reunion shows of our generation.

Soundgarden came on and kicked some ass. They sounded great. I couldn’t find one thing wrong, even if I were looking, with their performance. Chris Cornell looked and sounded great. Kim Thayil, with just a tad more gray in his beard, proved why he is a monster guitar player. Ben Sheppard still opted to keep his bass hung at his ankles and looked like he finally put on some much needed weight, and holding it all together was Matt Cameron. Matt motherfuckin Cameron. Is there ANYTHING this guy can not do?

Cameron drummed on the original Pearl Jam demos that landed Eddie Vedder a job, was a principle architect of Soundgarden’s success, went back to join Pearl Jam full time and is now doing double duty with two of the most significant bands of that generation. I know we like to think Cornell is the bread and butter of Soundgarden, and he is certainly the face, but for my money it is Matt Cameron. Look, he’s not Neil Peart, but he doesn’t pretend to be, he is a rock solid rock and roll drummer. And for my money, he’s the glue to this band (and Pearl Jam). Cornell, amazing singer, Thayil, great guitar player, Sheppard, great bass player, but Cameron…he is the shit.

Accolades aside, the performance was perfunctory. Which is to say, neither good nor bad, it just was. There was very little interaction among the band onstage. And look, they’re all in their late 40’s, I wouldn’t expect to see them bouncing all over the place like they did 20 years ago. They just didn’t seem to be having any fun. Cornell eventually loosened up and became marginally animated but Thayil and Sheppard just played with typical aplomb.With Cameron in the back holding it all down. They sounded great albeit a little boring.

While I am not convinced they got back together for a big payday, I’m slightly flummoxed why they did. Perhaps they are trying to cement their place in the rock and roll pantheon, which was already secure. Maybe Chris Cornell decided working with Timbaland was a bad career choice and wanted to get back to ground zero? Maybe they still felt they had something to say as a band. Or maybe they all just wanted to get a little extra scratch to pay for their divorces/college fund/summer homes. I’ll err towards the fact that they still feel they have something to say.

The good news is that they do indeed have something to say. They are touring in support of a new album, King Animal, so it isn’t a greatest hits set list. But no one cares about the new stuff. Which is unfortunate, because it is pretty good. It’s tough for a band to go away for 15 years and come back expecting the new material to be welcomed with open arms.

Last night at Irving Plaza, Soundgarden, the band, was welcomed back with open arms. There is a perverse sense of pleasure seeing soft in the middle Gen X’ers breaking out the old flannel and doc martens for a romp in the mosh pit. And yes, there was one, it was just really mellow because the fear of breaking a hip is now real. There was even some body surfing. I’m not entirely sure why Soundgarden is back but I am glad they’re back. If you get a chance and you are a fan, you should check them out. Especially in a smaller environment.

Irving Plaza Set List:

  1. Incessant Mace
  2. Gun
  3. Jesus Christ Pose
  4. By Crooked Steps
  5. Outshined
  6. Room a Thousand Years Wide
  7. Spoonman
  8. Taree
  9. Been Away Too Long
  10. Worse Dreams
  11. My Wave
  12. Ugly Truth
  13. Fell on Black Days
  14. Hunted Down
  15. Drawing Flies
  16. Non-State Actor
  17. Black Saturday
  18. Blow Up the Outside World
  19. Eyelid’s Mouth
  20. Blood on the Valley Floor
  21. Rowing
  22. Encore:
  23. Slaves & Bulldozers
  24. Encore 2:
  25. Rusty Cage