I had missed out on seeing the Seattle four-piece in the past. They were supposed to play my first Reading Festival in 1994 but had to drop out. I was always a little concerned about seeing them – I had thought they may be a little dull live. Whilst it’s undeniable that Chris Cornell has a voice and a half, I was unsure if I could hack it for a full set. It didn’t take long for that worry to be blown away.
On the train journey down, my compadre was positive, based on no evidence whatsoever, that the band would play Superunknown in its entirety. I’m pretty glad that he was still in the beer queue when Cornell and the boys took the stage to announce that for the third, and likely last, time that was exactly what they were doing. It remains the band’s most successful album spawning Grammy nominations, and Grammy winning singles in ‘Spoonman’ and ‘Black Hole Sun’. Not to mention selling almost 9 million copies worldwide.
The numbers, however, fell by the wayside as they powered into opener ‘Let Me Drown’. The other acts on the day all seemed to be troubled by sound issues at the start of their set. Not so here. Heavy and meaty with Cornell in fine voice. Next up, ‘My Wave’, a song that Chris described as the band’s version of Nirvana’s ‘Territorial Pissings’. Maybe not in sound, but the energy was definitely there. There was a lull before the next song with Chris explaining that as there were a variety of tunings for the different songs then a number of guitar changes were needed. It did hinder slightly the momentum of the set, but as they launched into a truly stunning version of ‘Fell On Black Days’ you could forgive it. Again, any misgivings I may have had about Chris’ voice vanished.
‘Mailman’, was a change of pace, downtuned and brooding before the introduction of a very special guest. Mike McCready of Pearl Jam came out to take guitar duties on ‘Superunknown’ prompting fervent fantasies about a Temple of the Dog encore – sadly that didn’t happen. Next up was ‘Head Down’, not a track I know particularly well, but Matt Cameron’s drumming was a standout here. And then, ‘Black Hole Sun’. Described by Dave Grohl as the perfect meeting of the Beatles and Black Sabbath it seems incredible that it’s only 20 years old, it seems to have been with us forever. Prompting a mass sing-along, it was a special moment. And it was followed by ‘Spoonman’, my own special moment. My personal favourite Soundgarden tune and it was outstanding. Kicking hard and, it almost goes without saying, Cornell’s pipes on top form.
‘Limo Wreck’ was understated and maybe fell a little flat I felt, but ‘The Day I Tried To Live’ with it’s big chorus made up for that. ‘Kickstand’ suffered from being one of the weaker songs on the album. This can be one of the issues doing a full album gig – just as the crowd is traditionally expecting the big songs along comes the tail end filler. However you couldn’t accuse ‘Fresh Tendrils’ of being filler. An absolute belter of a tune, performed to perfection. ‘4th of July’ followed in all it’s muddy, noisy glory and the band finished with ‘Like Suicide’. Dedicated to Black Sabbath it suffered, again, from being at the tail-end of the album. Not what you would generally choose as a gig closer.
All in all, a great gig and the performance of the day. There were a couple of dips near the end but the concerns I had about the band being dull or Cornell’s vocals starting to grate were misguided; and I’ve hardly had Superunknown off my iPod since.
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