As a twenty something disciple of music of the late 60’s and early 70’s; now labeled as classic rock by the music media, the 1980’s was a musical wasteland. U2 was able to lay claim to the greatest rock and roll act in the world in those days, because quite frankly they had no competition. Synth rock and MTV jingle bands were selling records and there was little room for rock and roll.
That all changed in the early 90’s when a group of hard rocking, flannel wearing contemporaries of mine came storming out of the Pacific Northwest (pun intended) and changed the direction of the music industry. This change in direction was in no small part due to the vision of Perry Farrell, lead singer of Jane’s Addiction, whose Lollapalooza festival introduced the nation in first person to Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and several other new bands to come out of Seattle and gave birth to the “grunge” movement.
“Grunge” was of course not in any way a musical style as it was a need to package and market this new music. There was of course nothing new about the style of music that was coming out of Seattle. Soundgarden and Pearl Jam were re-interpreting the sounds of their heroes of the 60s and 70s. Pearl Jam unabashedly attached itself to The Who, while Soundgarden’s roots are very clearly anchored to the sound of Black Sabbath and to a lesser degree Led Zeppelin.
Soundgarden burst out of Seattle at the same time as Pearl Jam and Nirvana but never quite found the same level of commercial success. Lead singer Chris Cornell, looked and sounded like a rock and roll god and was poised to become the new face of rock and roll. It never happened for Cornell or Soundgarden. The band released two albums, “Badmotorfinger” and “Superunknown”, in the early 90s which had huge commercial success and the band had inertia.
Singles “My Wave” “Black Days” and “Spoonman” all had become regular fare on FM radio and on MTV. Unlike their brothers in arms Pearl Jam, Soundgarden had no problem conforming and releasing music videos. But in the end the band could not deliver on their early commercial success and differences between Cornell and lead guitarist Kim Thayill, lead to the break up of the band, promise unfulfilled. Drummer Matt Cameron went on to join Pearl Jam while Bassist Ben Sheppard moved on to other projects before the band came back together in 2010.
The band started touring again in 2010 thanks to another Pearl Jam hiatus allowing drummer Matt Cameron to join his former bandmates. In 2012 the band released its first album “King Animal” in 15 years. The present tour is in support of this new album.
Last night at Los Angeles’s Wiltern theatre Soundgarden played the first of it’s 3 Los Angeles shows. The band played to a sold out mostly male audience. The crowd was highly charged, more than slightly inebriated and very edgy. I was shoved down the aisle as I made my way to the pit where I found myself in a time warp as Soundgarden took to the stage and an old school mosh pit took shape, in middle-aged form.
The band charged through a nearly 3 hour set featuring multiple numbers from “King Animal” as well as its best hits. The crowd nearly levitated the venerable Wiltern when Cornell struck a pose for early hit “Jesus Christ Pose” and then followed with perhaps the band’s biggest commercial hit “Spoonman”. I bobbed and weaved my way through the pit trying to get the best vantage point for photographs while having to stave off the moshers and drunks looking for a fight.
The band came out for an epic finale which it’s most hard core fans could connect with, slaying two of its more hard edged singles in “Outshined” and “Rusty Cage” before closing the show with fan favorites “Dusty” and “Slaves and Bulldozers”.
Soundgarden 2013 is as good a rock and roll band as you will see. Cornell is still one of the most powerful front men of his day and perhaps the fame and fortune that should have rightly been his, will come his way through this new run with Soundgarden. Rock and roll is still not dead. It’s alive and well and still coming at ya from the streets of Seattle.
For complete photo gallery of the Soundgarden show go here –
Seattle comes to LA – and we’re all better for it! Cornell has one of the best voices from any era of rock music and given that ability he never wasted it on material that was beneath his stature. Really glad Cameron makes time for this. Thanks for the view from the trenches!