Although Soundgarden has been gigging off and on since reuniting in 2010, it was not until a recent mini-tour of smaller venues in England and North America that fans were finally able to hear a healthy helping of new material. At the group's Tuesday night stop at New York City's 1,025-capacity Irving Plaza, many new songs from King Animal, the group's first all-new studio album in 16 years, did battle with countless grunge classics.
When a black curtain parted, the King Animal album cover greeted the crowd as the stage's backdrop. Guitarist Kim Thayil and bassist Ben Shepherd donned hats for the performance (a fedora and a newsboy cap, respectively), and Chris Cornell rekindled his grunge-god persona, complete with long hair and black stomp boots. Keeping the beat throughout was sometime Pearl Jam drummer Matt Cameron, who is one of the few major rock drummers to forgo a Peter Criss-approved drum riser, instead opting to remain close to the stage with his modestly-sized kit.
Straightaway, you knew it was a "hardcore fans only" type of show, as the band chose to go with such tracks as the Ultramega OK obscurity "Incessant Mace" (the set opener) in place of expected stand-bys (like "Black Hole Sun"). During the set's second tune, "Gun," the mostly older crowd behaved like young kids again, slam dancing into one another after the mid-song advice to "buckle up." The leadoff single/video from King Animal, "Been Away Too Long," was featured, as was a smattering of other new tunes, some of which could use a bit more onstage honing ("Taree") and some that already sounded like behemoths ("By Crooked Steps").
However, it was the classics that drew the biggest crowd response, especially "Hunted Down" (which stirred up the mosh pit once more) and "Outshined" (which featured the crowd singing the lyrics nearly as loud as Cornell).
Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins, who was spotted by the soundboard, seemed to be having a grand old time. One person who didn't appear to be having such a jolly time was Shepherd, who prowled the stage all night, as if looking for something to set him off. At one point he yelled at someone offstage before kicking a few monitors out of his way.
For an encore, Cornell threatened a "45-minute version" of "Slaves & Bulldozers," which didn't meander that long, but did conclude with five minutes of swirling feedback. After the curtains closed and the prerecorded strains of Deep Purple's "Speed King" came on, some headed for the exits. But after chants of "one more song," Soundgarden did return with a slamming rendition of the Badmotorfinger gem "Rusty Cage." (Unfortunately, the feedback and break time prevented a performance of "Flower," which was on the set list). As the band left the stage, a sweat-drenched Cornell thanked the crowd; Thayil was the last one to exit, but not before toasting the crowd with his Budweiser.
For those unable to score tickets to this cozy gig, some relief will soon be on its way: a far more extensive Soundgarden U.S. tour has been announced for early next year.
"Jesus Christ Pose"
"By Crooked Steps"
"Room a Thousand Years Wide"
"Been Away Too Long"
"Fell On Black Days"
"Blow Up the Outside World"
"Blood on the Valley Floor"
"Slaves & Bulldozers"