Nothing To Say: Soundgarden at Terminal 5

haven't seen these four guys in one place since 1996

I have not been certain at all about this reconstituted Soundgarden, so uncertain that despite my great love for that band and their music I did not leap through hoops or get on planes to go see them. I missed all the gigs last summer because I was on the road anyway and so when they turned up back in NYC, I decided it was time. I heard all the whispers of separate tour buses and less than cohesive energy between the lead singer and the rest of the band, and it was just time that to go, to find out for myself.

And as it turned out, it was lovely to see them, you know, those four guys onstage making the noise that many have tried to emulate but none have equalled. They were loud and huge and noisy and smart, they were smart more than anything, and I got sucked into them when many of us were finding what piece of the noises coming out of Seattle we wanted any part of. Everyone was flocking to Pearl Jam and Nirvana but I actually attached myself to Soundgarden first. I loved Cornell’s hair and THAT VOICE and Thayil’s presence and guitar playing and MATT CAMERON, who made that enormous drum sound come out of that tiny kit, and this fucking punk rock bass player over in the corner.

And then I moved to Seattle in the middle of everything, in enough time to be able to see some of the great shows, that Lollapalooza 96 tour, a club show at the Showbox (which went on sale at 5pm on a Friday at the Blockbuster on Queen Anne. I ran out of my office at Second and Pine, took cash out of the ATM on the corner [promptly leaving my card in the machine], and hopped on a bus. I was the third person in the line), and other stories that are more of the same, that overwhelming love of a band and its music and being able to immerse yourself in it until it decides to call it a day. I was not cheated but I wish I had gone to Europe to see them those times I was sitting in the MIddle East and watching MTV Europe and realizing that this was all going on at home without me, but that is another story for another day.

The verdict is that I’m glad I went tonight, but I don’t need to go again. It’s like seeing that guy you dated 10 or 15 years ago, wasn’t a bad dude but you just kind of drifted apart, and it’s lovely to see him and he looks good and has a new hair cut and likes his job and you had a nice evening but you don’t need to, you know, rekindle anything. The new material is certainly respectable but, let’s be honest, even the catchiest ones don’t hold a candle to the most obscure track on Down On The Upside. I mean, I tried, and the crowd tried, but even the kids at the front didn’t know the words to the new stuff.

But ,it was so good to SEE them on that stage again and after that rush of deja vu and memories (during “Spoonman” I was having all the Seattle feelings and memories it was possible to have in one place at one time). It was good to just enjoy all those songs again. And it was good to enjoy them from the balcony like a grown-up, without six large frat dudes pushing against my back the entire show. I liked being able to EXPERIENCE THE MUSIC, to catch the little jazz fills Matt throws in (that break in “Spoonman” will always get me, you don’t expect it there but yet, there it is), the arpeggios Kim sneaks by (“Fell On Black Days” has one of my favorites), those vocal riffs Cornell can do when he wants to and showcase that voice that entranced us all the first time we heard it, and Ben, dear Ben, who I lamented years ago would have a less than happy fate, looks healthy and happy and has morphed his Sid pose into, well, I was going to say Entwistle-ian but maybe more like, if Sid had gotten old and grown up. Cornell has lost much of what made him so compelling back in the day, but, you know, Audioslave, and I think maybe he lost it because he wasn’t that person any more, he was already not that person any more when he first went out solo with the folks from Eleven.

I was happy with the set otherwise, I didn’t get “Searching” but I got “Outshined” and “Jesus Christ Pose” and that’s all I would have asked for. The set was surprisingly heavy on DOTU material (in a good way, because I’m not sure they liked it that much when it came out) and the crowd reacted more strongly to that than “Black Hole Sun,” during which most of them read their email. Kids down front with a sign for “Head Down” got their wish. “Fresh Tendrils” out of nowhere. It was good. They were solid. They were having fun, or at least they didn’t hate being up there together.

I did, at least, feel like they mean it, and that they are a band, but I’m not sure that this is grown up Soundgarden. They could do that but that would take work and being brave and, again, they could absolutely do it but I’m not sure that’s what they want to do. But they didn’t make me sad or break my heart and I just wanted to walk up and hug them and be all “Dudes! It’s been so long! You look great! Nice to see you.” And it was.