Flannel shirts, ripped jeans, balding hair, and even a few Buffy the Vampire Slayer era chokers flood Shepherd’s Bush Empire in a haze of ‘90s confusion. If there had been mushrooms involved, there definitely would have been some time travel worries. Soundgarden are a band that many listened to but never actually saw live, back when we still got most of our musical kicks through TV channels. With a new album out, tonight is going to be interesting to say the least. However, with new material usually comes a live show that’s heavy on that material. Something no one wants when it comes to a band like Soundgarden, who have been away for so very long.
The band begin the night with new record opener and the aptly titled ‘Been Away Too Long’ – a perfect start to the set thanks to the drum beat that makes your heart hurt. Then firing through the likes of ‘Spoonman’ and ‘Incessant Mace’ (a fan favorite and special song tonight, as it is the first time played live since 1995) so early in the set, it’s clear that they don’t want to bore fans with just what they want to play.
The crowd’s reaction seems positive to the majority of the new material, but it’s hard to tell as no one can really jump around or even move; the turnout for tonight is insane. ‘Attrition’ is also played for the very first time, and without a doubt they have clearly picked the best songs from ‘King Animal’ to showcase here this evening.
One of the most noticeable things tonight, after realising no one’s wardrobe has changed since ’95, is that Chris Cornell still has the voice of a thousand angels. Those angels smoke forty Lamberts a day, but still. His vocal style has gotten stronger over time and succeeds the recordings, something we’ve never really seen happen with a band of this magnitude.
The night culminates with what everyone thought it would. Returning for the encore, the grunge icons glide through an amazing rendition of ‘Black Hole Sun’, a song with a video most foul that still resides in the darkest corners of the imagination.
Was tonight a success? Yes, without a doubt. But was it a triumph? No. Some might say that ‘King Animal’ is not Soundgarden, that Cornell’s influence has seemed to produce only a semi-decent new album. It kind of feels like this return was premature. Their ‘90s counterparts Dinosaur Jr. and Deftones still have an aura of potential around them, whereas with these grunge legends… it just seems done. But with an absolutely intense live show and a well-ordered set list to coincide with that, we’ll shut up about the intricacies of it and remember this night for what it was. Face melting.
Words by Jamie Carson