The first band were grunge superstars Soundgarden, two years on from their massive breakthroughalbum Superunknown and touring their new release Down On The Upside. They were burned-out, bummed-out and put on a workmanlike show, getting blown off the stage by unlikely support act Moby. Seven months later they split up.
The second band are grunge legends Soundgarden, back together and touring their reunion album King Animal. The faces are the same (if slightly more wrinkled) but the performances are a world away and there was no danger this time of being outshined.
Blasting onto the stage with enthusiasm, energy and a double-assault of Let Me Down and Spoonman, modern-day Soundgarden looked like they wanted to be up there and that set the scene for a much more enjoyable show than last time.
Rather than going through the motions, they were playing like they meant it, with Ben Shepherd prowling the stage like a brooding, hulking menace (but in a good way), while Kim Thayil grooved on the opposite side like a man in a band all of his own (a band where everyone has to wear cool hats).
Matt Cameron was the only one out of all of us to look like he hadn’t aged a day in 17 years, presumably because he’s not had the time to fit into the schedule of man who needs to remember all of the drum parts of pretty much every Soundgarden and Pearl Jam song to fit his dual role.
And then there’s Chris Cornell, a man who has been rejuvenated by the success of his solo acoustic tours and the return of Soundgarden. A hugely engaging frontman nowadays as well as a remarkable vocalist (although the levels were a bit off at first, ironically drowning him out on Let Me Down), he was in full-on rock god mode.
Much of the show was taken from Superunknown and Down On The Upside, with tracks like Burden In My Hand, Blow Up The Outside World and Pretty Noose from the latter getting great reactions, while of course Black Hole Sun, Fell On Black Days and The Day I Tried To Live were ever-popular.
The new songs fit in to the routine well, particularly By Crooked Steps and Been Away Too Long, but the highlight of the show for me took things back to the start with Beyond The Wheel from Ultramega OK. The backdrop videos had worked well through the night, but the sinister stuff that was going on for this one was just perfect.
One of Soundgarden’s heaviest and darkest songs, Beyond The Wheel called for Cornell’s vocal chords to do work you wouldn’t expect someone pushing 50 to be capable of, but he managed it and it was both thrilling and spell-binding to experience.
Finishing off with Thayil and Shepherd alone on stage creating a feedback-driven racket before the latter flung his bass over his head, it was an intense finale to a show that proved that Soundgarden really can be a great live band and it’s great to have had the chance to see them again.