Soundgarden have always felt like a blue-collar band: just four guys dressed in t-shirts and jeans, going about the business of playing rock music. Nothing flashy, just technical precision performed in a humble fashion. Plus with their calm demeanor, these guys seemed more like friends than rock stars. Their sudden departure from the music scene definitely left a void, but we as fans were forced to move on and seek out other musical interests while patiently awaiting the return of this great band. The only question was how long was it going to take?
Has Soundgarden really been gone for almost fifteen years? It doesn’t really seem like it. Perhaps it’s because drummer Matt Cameron joined fellow Seattle rockers Pearl Jam soon after his original band’s breakup. Perhaps it’s because singer Chris Cornell quickly embarked on both a successful solo career and a well-received stint as frontman for Audioslave. Or maybe it’s because Soundgarden’s music remains omnipresent to this day, whether it be consistent radio airplay or inclusion in popular video games. At the same time, this also means that there is still almost an entire generation who has never seen the band perform live together.
Seems like a perfect time to spend an evening with an old friend from your past…
The noisy, feedback-soaked opening notes of “Searching With My Good Eye Closed” provided the perfect backdrop for the band’s triumphant re-introduction to the fans of Los Angeles, who had packed themselves into the cozy confines of the Forum. Without missing a beat, the band was tight, focused, and visibly confident – no signs of rust were evident at all from their lengthy hiatus. They rode that momentum straight into the crowd-pleasing “Spoonman,” which featured dynamic work on bass (and backing vocals) by the steady Ben Shepherd. But then something peculiar happened…
Far be it for me to over-analyze the situation, but it definitely felt like the excitement of having waited so long to finally see this band live took its toll on the eager crowd. The energy level quickly hit a plateau and stayed even for the rest of the show, as much of the crowd remained seated (at one point, Cornell walked to one side of the stage and motioned with his arms to ask the crowd to stand up). Each song was followed by a polite round of applause, which quickly disseminated into a quiet hum until the next song began. There’s two schools of thought to possibly describe this reaction: One suggests that many people in the crowd were simply casual fans who were only familiar with the more popular songs, and after hearing “Spoonman,” they patiently awaited “Black Hole Sun” (Note: there were fifteen songs played in the interim).
The other, which I choose to believe, hints at my earlier notion of visiting with an old friend – once you get past the initial joy of rekindling old memories, you simply want to relax and enjoy their company. We didn’t care what they played; we just wanted them to play. And did they ever! Their amazing set encompassed the band’s entire career: minor hits (“Blow Up The Outside World,” “Rusty Cage,” “Fell On Black Days,” and a powerful rendition of “Outshined”), album tracks (“4th of July,” “Room A Thousand Years Wide,” “Head Down,” and “Superunknown”, which featured a guest appearance from Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready), lesser-known material from their earliest releases (“Ugly Truth”, “Beyond The Wheel”, “Flower”, and the band’s first single from 1987, “Hunted Down”), as well as a stellar performance of their newest single, “Black Rain.”
After over two hours and 25 songs, the band exited the stage as modestly as they had entered: After his skillful evening playing guitar culminated with the set-closing “Slaves And Bulldozers,” Kim Thayil gently placed the instrument against his amplifier, allowing him and his bandmates to depart one at a time, each offering a gentle wave to the crowd over the din of feedback. Our friends were now leaving for the time being, but with their promise of a new album in the works, we all know that it is only a matter of time before we will have another chance to welcome them back into our lives – one that thankfully won’t require fifteen years of waiting.