Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell thanked folks crammed into New York club Irving Plaza last night (Nov. 13) for attending the "record release party" for "King Animal," out yesterday. But from behind those simple words came a lot of power and a lot of history as the Seattle quartet, which reunited two years ago after its 1997 break-up, brought its first album in 16 years to bear amidst a two-hour blitzkrieg that kicked off with dark classics (1988's "Incessant Mace," 1991's "Jesus Christ Pose").
"Incessant Mace" (1988)
"Jesus Christ Pose" (1991)
"My Wave" (1994)
"Blow Up..." (1996)
"By Crooked Steps" (2012)
It took fans on a ride that culminated with Cornell's operatic wail atop bassist Ben Shepherd and drummer Matt Cameron's formidable rhythm section tailing off into a big, evil, perfect wall of feedback from guitarist Kim Thayil that lasted several minutes. And this was all before a tireless "Rusty Cage" during a second encore several minutes after lights up.
The Irving Plaza gig happened to be on the exact 22nd anniversary of Soundgarden/Pearl Jam supergroup Temple of the Dog's only full show -- a fun coincidence considering the fact that Cameron has also been Pearl Jam's drummer since shortly after Soundgarden broke up. But this show on the night of a new album and a new moon was not about basking in grunge nostalgia. While Soundgarden has headlined arenas around the world since reforming in 2010, it was the infusion of the new "King Animal" material -- which is at once freshly inspired and also familiarly Soundgarden-esque -- that elevated this particular show and era of the band as live performers above the recent past. With a sheaf of tight new songs on display -- "By Crooked Steps," "Non-State Actor" and "Rowing" among them -- their hearts seemed to be in it. The only noticeable falter was as new almost-ballad "Black Saturday" fell mostly flat.
This corollary effect of the inspired new stuff finding vocal approval from the crowd (which included Foo Fighter Taylor Hawkins headbanging from the soundboard) was that the vintage material (which of course got everyone shouting along, crowd surfing, cheering) seemed to be breathed with new life suddenly. 1987's "Hunted Down," the band's very first single, erupted into the 1100 capacity club halfway thorough, and a slew of songs from 1991's "Badmotorfinger" got the biggest rise from fans -- "Outshined, "Room A Thousand Years Wide," "Drawing Flies," though later hits "Fell On Black Days" and "Spoonman" acquitted themselves nicely.
By the end of the night, Cornell had sweated his white t-shirt see through and fedora-and- Neurosis-t-shirt-wearing Thayil was smirking knowingly as he attempted to kill the crowd dead -- in a good way -- with his squalling feedback. It isn't 1991 for Soundgarden anymore -- it's 2012, and what a good thing that is.