It may have been their first time on stage together in a dozen years, but Soundgarden's reunion show on Friday dug deep into their catalog, back to their earliest, pre-grunge days. "This is our first show in 14 years, so it's a lot of old songs," Chris Cornell said at Seattle's Showbox. "But it's not just songs that we stopped playing in 1998 — it's songs we stopped playing in 1990."
True to their word, half of the 18-song set dated from 1989 or before, including "Hunted Down," their debut Sub Pop single. On "Flower" and "Beyond the Wheel," both from 1988, you could see drummer Matt Cameron and bassist Ben Shepherd watching their cues. If the band did seem a bit rusty on opener "Spoonman," it also made the night exciting: There was a sense of spontaneity that suggested anything could happen.
At several points Cornell explained that the evening, where the band played under the secret anagram "Nudedragons," was a "rehearsal" for their Lollapalooza dates later this year. He threatened that if they "screwed something up," they would play it again. No repeats were necessary, however, and the Seattle faithful, including Eddie Vedder, sang along to every tune.
Cornell was barely out of high school when Soundgarden first formed, and at 45, he looks surprisingly boyish. Whether he was holding a mike stand over the crowd, or head banging his long hair, he appeared more comfortable onstage with Soundgarden than he has during any of his recent solo tours. His voice remains as youthful as ever, and whether intoning a deep growl on "Fell on Black Days," or hitting the falsetto on "Outshined," he was spot on.
Guitarist Kim Thayil is the oldest member of Soundgarden, at 49, and the member who had most retreated during the band's hiatus. He said nothing onstage, but his time off only emphasized his guitar god status, as he hit every solo with aplomb. He only looked tentative on a cover of the Doors' "Waiting for the Sun," which ended the evening.
Cornell was the only band member to speak to the crowd, except for when drummer Cameron introduced Cornell. In introducing his bandmates, Cornell simply said, "Here's Matt, here's Ben, and here's Kim." To Soundgarden's loyal Seattle fans, some of whom had followed the band from their beginnings in dive bars up the street in 1986, no further name check was needed.
Soundgarden broke up after a show in February 1997, when Shepherd threw his bass in the air before walking offstage. At the band's first show in over a decade years, Shepherd intentionally tossed his instrument again, and the band left the stage while his Fender bass was airborne. This time around it was clear to everyone - both in the crowd and in Soundgarden — that the gesture signaled a new beginning, and not an end.
"Searching With My Good Eye Closed"
"Beyond the Wheel"
"Fell on Black Days"
"Nothing to Say"
"Blow Up The Outside World"
"Slaves and Bulldozers"
"Get On The Snake"
"Big Dumb Sex"
"Waiting for the Sun" (Doors Cover)