"We're from Seattle," Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell said as he led the band through its classic 1994 album "Superunknown" at New York's Webster Hall on Monday (June 2), "It's black even in f**king July." The sold-out crowd erupted into the third of countless cheers as the quartet slid into "Fell On Black Days," the first of the album's two famous 'black' songs.
|PHOTOS: SOUNDGARDEN at WEBSTER HALL
Just a day ahead of the deluxe re-release of "Superunknown," the Seattle group had convened in downtown Manhattan for this Citi-sponsored club show -- with the astonishing ticket price of $19.94 -- to celebrate the richly-veined, muscular 70 minute epic by playing it in its entirety for the only second time, following a special gig at SXSW in March. And against a backdrop of the album's black-and-mars-red abstract cover image of Cornell in mid yell, Soundgarden brought all of that rock (and more) to bear in a tight, thunderous tumult that alternately made it hard to believe 20 years had passed and made it clear that the two decades had honed both the band (which reformed in 2010 after breaking up in 1997) and the familiar music -- they were playing those great old songs even better than ever.
"When this record came out, the Rangers won the Stanley Cup," bassist Ben Shepherd, who'd been out in front of the club before the gig and even got a couple of fans into the show, said ahead of "Kickstand." The New York crowd launched into a deafening round of "Let's Go Rangers," for the team again about to play for the cup for the first time since then. "This will Howard Stern's radio station," Cornell revealed, "so you'll all hear yourself do that on the radio."
Cornell, lithe and with a longish-fringe of brown curls curtaining his face, was not shy about discussing some of the album's darkest recesses, talking about the "disgusting murderer" character in "Mailman" who "snapped their cord," but ultimately the music did all the talking. Guitarist Kim Thayil dished out the many alternate-tunings like bolts of lightning, taking the audience on a six-string rollercoaster down, down, down while stalwart drummer Matt Cameron -- in one of his last stints behind the Soundgarden kit this year before taking a touring hiatus to spend time on the road with his other band Pearl Jam -- attacked the songs, bringing a beats both brutal and full of finesse. Shepherd, meanwhile held down the low-end, providing a heavy melodic bed that the other instruments layered on, with Cornell's black, black wails right at the very top.
"Black Hole Sun," their other hit 'black' song, went over like a supernova, but it was some of the less famous album cuts that sent unexpected ripples through the crowd. The manic, percussive "Spoonman" whipped up a frenzy, as did title track "Superunknown, and "Like Suicide," the album's epic, dirge-y coda elicited a roar. But by then, everyone knew Soundgarden had a little something extra in store beyond "Superunknown," as Cornell had quipped that 70 minutes was long for an album, but not nearly long enough for a "proper rock show."
So it was that Cornell, Cameron, Thayil and Shepherd returned after a brief encore break for a pair of tunes from Soundgarden's equally classic 1991 album, "Badmotorfinger," which Thayil just told Billboard the band is considering for reissue in 2016 (its 25th anniversary). And with the tanned Cornell "looking California" for sure, the pummeling "Outshined" took over for perhaps the biggest cheers of the night before they closed with "Rusty Cage," leaving the audience sweaty and hoarse and amped on adrenaline.