It’s been almost 16 years but Soundgarden are about to release their first album since 1996’s Down On The Upside. A break up, a reunion, some headlining tours, and it’s as if their trademark guitar riffs and full throttle bass never left the music landscape. King Animal – the album the group has been working towards since re-forming in 2010 – follows the band’s reason for getting back together again. The reason why lead singer Chris Cornell believes they’re still relevant after all these years, telling Rolling Stone magazine recently: After 15 years, we can reassemble and again prove that we are a vital band that has something to say about rock music that other people don’t and we deserve to be making music that’s heard on an international stage.”
Watching the Seattle band perform on the Live on Letterman stage shows the band deserves this much at least. Sure, their heyday was in the 90s but the energy behind Cornell, guitarist Kim Thayil, drummer Matt Cameron and bassist Ben Shepherd is enough to warrant the band’s presence on this stage, or any other, right now. Cornell’s voice – like the gold guitar he played – is still a precious metal all its own, always at the centre of the music.
Taking to the Ed Sullivan Theatre stage, a venue Cornell described as being so hallowed you could “leave an apple in here for years and it wouldn’t go rotten,” the group charged through their set, with very little said in between. Surprisingly, it didn’t feature the first lead single off King Animal, Been Away Too Long (even if it does make for an aptly titled opening number) but there were a few other tracks from the new album, like By Crooked Steps and Taree.
Soundgarden powered through some of the lesser known songs from their back catalogue with Cornell saying at one point: “If you know anything about this band, you will know this song – it’s from a record called UltraMegaOK,” before going into Behind the Wheel. If you’re a first-timer like I was, you’ll appreciate the disappointment that there was no Black Hole Sun. But the soul-stirring version of Fell on Black Days more than made up for it.
And you’ve got to give Cornell and his bandmates the respect they deserve. After dedicating their Live on Letterman performance to the Mayor’s Fund for NY, and with it the fee they would get for playing to Superstorm Sandy victims, Cornell went off to play another Sandy fundraiser at the Bowery Ballroom.
Relevant, yes. Vital? Absolutely.