Today we honor the memory of Chris Cornell with the Rock File’s review of Soundgarden live in 2013.
January 23, 2013
New York City
I remember seeing Soundgarden on June 16, 1994 at the New York State Armory on a sweltering day when there was no air-conditioning, no beer, and people were taking off their shirts, even the girls.
And here are some thoughts on seeing Soundgarden live nineteen years later…
How utterly unchanged the voice of Chris Cornell is, who has seemingly lost none of the powerrage and range of that purely singular banshee-howl of his. And that image of Cornell really leaning into—stomping even—that molten riff towards the end of “Rusty Cage,” and isn’t that one of the most killer riffs you’ve ever heard? And how pleased Cornell looks to be leading this great American band once again and what a truly colossal body of work this band is rediscovering together and sharing with an adoring crowd.
Man, it’s fucking freezing out there.
And why is Kim Thayil not considered one of the great electric wizards of his generation? Or maybe he is. And we don’t get to see and hear nearly enough of this somewhat strange and quiet sage who is as inventive and quirky and esoteric on his instrument as say, Larry LaLonde, and if only Thayil was out there making more music with like a bunch of electric sitarists or something like that. And that image of Thayil floating across the stage like the lost shadows of time…
That’s a pretty big plastic cup of Jack Daniels, isn’t it?
And how Matt Cameron on drums is kind of an anomaly because he looks like such a nice young boy of maybe seventeen but he’s one hard-hitting mofo who has benefited greatly from joining Pearl Jam because he’s been playing pretty consistently since the demise of Soundgarden all those years ago. And this most certainly is the smallest venue he’s played in a very long time because doesn’t Pearl Jam own like the other half of the globe that U2 hasn’t paid for in full? And Cameron is certainly a better drummer in this band as the music is way more challenging and interesting and he’s smiling throughout knowing full well he’s the propeller of this very noisy band, and when drummers get to play more demanding music it makes it better for everybody involved apparently. And that image of Cameron rocking harder than he does with that other band.
The guy behind me keeps saying I’m backing up into his shit but I say something like “if you wanted to stay still, you should’ve gotten a seat in the old fuck section” or “you know the Earth is constantly moving on its own axis so maybe you should just hold the fuck on,” but then of course it’s in and out of my own personal mind riot in a matter of like seconds because Soundgarden is making this asshole utterly obsolete.
And that image of Ben Shepherd standing robot-still with a look of pure evil dread on his face.
And what’s up with Shepherd anyway?
Which makes me consider the nature of Soundgarden itself, a bunch of hard-rocking avant-gardists playing with noise and feedback and unlucky time signatures. It kind of makes you wonder if they’re just trying to like fuck with you this whole time. And of course this ultimately leads one to consider where this band fits in the long and unfolding story of heavy music and what exactly would you call Soundgarden then? There are hints of pre-eighties metal, seventies hard-rock, doom, gloom, sludge and, can we even use the term grunge in this new century without getting slapped in the face? Or maybe Soundgarden occupies their own space-time thing, which of course you know they do.
Weren’t we up in the balcony for that Pixies show several years ago?
And sometimes this music is so dense and layered you feel like you’re in the middle of a very long and ridiculously fucked-up passage in Wittgenstein’s Mistress or even some philosophical treatise on the nature of god and love and suicide and the like, but aren’t those all the same things at the end of the day?
That Badmotorfinger graphic is still super fucking cool.
And of course there’s the impossibly long setlist that clocks in at an utterly unhinged two point five hours of music which really is just meant to push you to an edge that you never thought you’d have to face, at least not tonight. It’s like enduring the sight of a thousand Francis Bacon paintings in one sitting and realizing there’s just as much beauty as violence contained in that great master’s vision and wondering how Soundgarden makes you feel the exact same thing and what that says about humanity and hope and existing outside your own mind riot, so to speak.
And so at this moment I’m not even gonna go into the whole people with cell phones ignoring this beautiful live music experience and instead opting for a life spent on a fucking handheld geek box.
So back to my own mind riot…
Searching with My Good Eye Closed
Live to Rise
Been Away Too Long
Blow Up the Outside World
By Crooked Steps
Blood on the Valley Floor
Black Hole Sun
The Day I Tried to Live
4th of July
Photograph by Charles Peterson