Soundgarden Sound Good

November 13, 2012

Irving Plaza
New York City

They announced the show one week ago and since they are the girlwife’s favorite band, I knew no stone would be left unturned in procuring tickets. With one phone call and a couple of prayers, she got the tickets.

Now, I am not Soundgarden’s biggest fan. In fact, in one of my stints on a college radio station prior to the grunge explosion, we received Louder Than Love just prior to my Friday afternoon show, which was appropriately titled The Sons of Nuns.

We dropped the needle on the first track…and removed the needle one minute later and stated our opinion. It was not favorable.

About a year later they were opening for Guns-n-Roses at Madison Square Garden and while they played, my friend and I stood outside selling our extra tickets.

I saw them about two years later on the second Lallapalooza tour, and by then grunge had exploded. They played right before Pearl Jam and were good, but I was there to see Pearl Jam.

I own almost all their albums because even though I was not a huge fan (I was way into grunge and that Seattle…thing). For the most part, I’ve always respected the band but never really loved them.

In preparation for the show, I spent the two days prior brushing up on the Soundgarden oeuvre. I realized my initial Sons of Nuns critique may have been a little harsh.

To say I was excited to see them would be a stretch. I wanted to see them for sure, I was more excited the girlwife was excited. So we, along with most of the New York City Generation X population, met outside of Irving Plaza to see one of the more anticipated reunion shows in recent memory.

Soundgarden came on and kicked some serious ass. Even if I were looking, I couldn’t find one thing wrong with their performance. Chris Cornell looked and sounded great. Kim Thayil, with just a tad more gray in his beard, proved why he is a monster guitar player. Ben Sheppard still opted to keep his bass hung at his ankles and looked like he finally put on some much needed weight, and holding it all together was Matt Cameron.

Matt motherfuckin Cameron. Is there ANYTHING this guy can not do?

In addition to singing the song “Puberty Love” in Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (he did, look it up), Cameron drummed on the original Pearl Jam demos that landed Eddie Vedder a job, and was a principle architect of Soundgarden’s success. Then he went back to Pearl Jam full time and is now doing double duty with two of the most significant bands of Generation X.

I know we like to think Cornell is the bread and butter of Soundgarden, and he is certainly the face, but for my money it is Matt Cameron. Look, he’s not Neil Peart, but he doesn’t pretend to be, he is a rock solid rock & roll drummer. Like every great drummer before him, he’s the glue…both here and with Pearl Jam. Cornell, amazing singer, Thayil, great guitar player, Sheppard, great bass player, but Cameron…he is the shit.

Accolades aside, the performance was a bit perfunctory. Which is to say, it just was. There was very little interaction among the band onstage. And look, they’re all in their late 40’s, I wouldn’t expect to see them bouncing all over the place like they did 20 years ago. They just didn’t seem to be having any fun. Cornell eventually loosened up and became marginally animated but Thayil and Sheppard just played with typical aplomb with Cameron holding it all down. They were great but a little boring.

While I am not entirely convinced they got back together for a big payday, this performance certainly makes me lean that way.

Perhaps they are trying to cement their place in the rock and roll pantheon, which was already secure. Maybe Chris Cornell decided working with Timbaland was a bad career choice and wanted to get back to ground zero? Maybe they still felt they had something to say as a band. Or maybe they all just wanted to get a little extra scratch to pay for their divorces/college funds/summer homes.

For the sake of optimism, I’ll opt to believe they really got back together because they still have something to say, but only time will tell.

They are touring in support of a new album, King Animal, so it isn’t entirely a greatest hits set list. Typically, no one knows are really cares about the new stuff. Which is unfortunate, because it is pretty good. It’s tough for a band to go away for 15 years and come back expecting the new material to be welcomed with open arms, let alone good.

Even if the new songs were more or less ignored, last night at Irving Plaza, Soundgarden was welcomed back with open arms. There is a perverse sense of pleasure seeing soft in the middle Gen X’ers breaking out the old flannel and doc martens for a romp in the mosh pit. And yes, there was one. It was just really mellow because the fear of breaking a hip is now real. There was even some body surfing.

I’m not entirely sure why Soundgarden is back but I am glad they are. If you get a chance, and you’re a fan, you should check them out. Especially in a smaller environment.

Irving Plaza Set List:

  1. Incessant Mace
  2. Gun
  3. Jesus Christ Pose
  4. By Crooked Steps
  5. Outshined
  6. Room a Thousand Years Wide
  7. Spoonman
  8. Taree
  9. Been Away Too Long
  10. Worse Dreams
  11. My Wave
  12. Ugly Truth
  13. Fell on Black Days
  14. Hunted Down
  15. Drawing Flies
  16. Non-State Actor
  17. Black Saturday
  18. Blow Up the Outside World
  19. Eyelid’s Mouth
  20. Blood on the Valley Floor
  21. Rowing
  22. Encore:
  23. Slaves & Bulldozers
  24. Encore 2:
  25. Rusty Cage


Great article on bassist who was kicked out of BOTH Nirvana and Soundgarden…and then went on to be a war hero. Seriously.