Not Just the Ticket — #43, Soundgarden, April 25, 1992

Soundgarden, Palladium

Then-current album: Badmotorfinger

Opening acts: Swervedriver, Monster Magnet

Back of ticket ad: and for once the KLSX ad makes a certain amount of sense

Sorry for the week off there but some other things had come up that needed my attention.

This show, then, this at-once strangely memorable but strangely distant show.

That sounds flippant at best, but in a way this was a show about consolidation, across the board. It was more than anything else a perfect A&M showcase, in that all three featured acts were signed or were about to be signed to the label (Monster Magnet wouldn’t release their debut for them, Superjudge, until the following year, but I suspect something was already in the air).

But of course it was also a broader consolidation at work at this point in the year. By now things were crystallizing rapidly in the world of rock, at least, and the idea of Seattle/grunge/RAWK as the way forward, with vague ideas of something captured under the banner of alternative coming along in its wake. Consolidation and codification, then, in equal measure — if you’re of a certain age and you like rock music, you like it like THIS and no other way.

An obvious exaggeration on many levels, a stereotype, but a stereotype that essentially seemed to function as true. It’s all a matter of projection, of assumptions — as indicated in the previous two entries to these, each of which were ‘typical’ shows to see at that time if you were in a certain crowd. Whether or not they were typical of anyone other than myself when all bundled together I don’t know — I could well have been one of a number of people also at the Sugarcubes the previous evening and the Wedding Present the night before, who knows? But they weren’t the ones getting the blanket airplay and video rotation coverage and so forth.

So from buzz and initial excitement once “Smells Like Teen Spirit” hit the radio to this point, and it was still all climbing and turning into this thing, whatever it was, this something else. By now Lollapalooza 1992 had to have been announced and both Soundgarden and Pearl Jam were on the bill — in ways, they couldn’t not be, at least one band from Seattle with a certain amount of attention and hits was going to be on it. I was going to be along for that ride, I was coming along for this ride, and it helped that there was another band on the bill I already liked.

Having already seen Swervedriver three times within nine months, I fancied myself more of a grizzled veteran there, and some part of me had to have been hoping still — foolish me — that there was going to be a larger breakthrough of things that were shoegaze or supposed to be that sometime in the near future. (I still think there was something like that did happen, though not too many people appreciate how much the Smashing Pumpkins were gaze-obsessed as anyone around that time — “Hummer” in particular.) I at least figured that they would be reasonably well received, because, well, they were loud, played guitars and looked a bit unkempt with the hair and all, so why wouldn’t they?

Monster Magnet were somewhat unknown to me in comparison though I think I might have picked up Spine of God by that point. Weird thing is is that there was a fourth band on the bill about whom I know nothing — and if anyone has any further information about that I’d be happy to hear it. The reason why I know about this fourth band was that we arrived — presumably including Kris C., she who had Chris Cornell end up in her lap at the last Soundgarden show we were at — only to find that Monster Magnet were onstage. We’d heard that they were supposed to be the bottom of the bill, but while wandering around the now very familiar main floor of the Palladium I met another KLA associate, Kevin E., who told me that the band before Monster Magnet had been absolutely great. Surprised, I asked if they said who they were — he said no and nobody else seemed to know who they were, so I wondered idly if Swervedriver had just gone ahead and opened the show. That bummed me out a bit — but when Swervedriver then appeared onstage later for their set, that rather changed my mood.

So to this day I’ve no idea who exactly it was that opened for this triple bill. Who knows, maybe it was the Frogs or something equally random.

As for Monster Magnet, as mentioned they were already on stage by the time we appeared, and it was by default the most unexpected moment of the night for me. At the time I was still a couple of years away from fully connecting the dots with their own particular version of rock history — Black Sabbath was still mostly just a name to me, one or two songs aside, Hawkwind even less familiar — but I was up for being impressed by a band that could put on a show, and that they did. It wasn’t a full spectacle or anything, but Dave Wyndorf was ranting brilliantly as we came in — can’t remember anything much of what he said, it was more this half stream-of-consciousness half-the-prophet-speaks flow of…something. This wasn’t being done to silence or anything like that, it was a full band jam, noisy as all hell and Wyndorf at the center of it all like a demented god, doubtless the point. The one line of his I do remember was something close to “I AM THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE!” — which seems like fairly standard ‘well yeah’ egomania, except he was also saying things like seeing galaxies and exploding supernovae and more besides, like he was really the center of the actual universe. The Carl Sagan buff in me approved, even if Wyndorf was inverting the usual scale between an individual person and the rest of infinity.

I saw all this from fairly close to the stage — for Swervedriver I’d already decamped upstairs to the usual balcony spot for Palladium shows and as noted was a little surprised to see them appear. Not unpleasantly so, though at this point there wasn’t much that was going to surprise me about their set, if only because of all the ones I’d seen in the recent past and because they were still touring for Raise. This was about the time that “Never Lose That Feeling” had been released as a stand-alone single, though, and it’s possible they might have played it but I’m not sure.

There was something unusual in retrospect about this show, though — at one point, right before “Rave Down,” Adam (I think) dedicated the song to Soundgarden, which raised an expected cheer. The two bands had been touring together for a bit, after all, and perhaps this was the final show of the tour or something close to it. It wasn’t until I read an interview/feature on Swervedriver a couple of weeks later in Melody Maker, talking about the tour and referencing that very incident, that I discovered it was because they were actually kinda pissed off with something Soundgarden had done — the article danced around it but the implication was someone in the headliner’s camp had said some fairly derogatory things on a homophobic level that had cheesed Swervedriver off. Read the lyrics and decide for yourself. Yet again, though, this was after the fact, and remains a bit of a curious thing to me.

And then Soundgarden and of course they rocked. It couldn’t match the impact of seeing them up close a few months previously, the Palladium’s ever so imperfect acoustics saw to that, but in terms of seeing them with a bigger crowd that was even more pumped up, it was a treat. Probably the same exact setlist even, but I can’t be sure — from a distance, seeing the foursome do their thing was a bit more cartoonish at points perhaps, but also to be expected. When you’re on an upward arc, it can change pretty quickly, and Soundgarden were transitioning like crazy, playing a bit bigger on stage to fill the size of the place they were appearing in. It wasn’t all handstands and antics or anything, but there was a bit more staginess, though probably all done with plenty of winks and nods, if only to themselves.

One bit I do remember very well — I forget Cornell’s exact words to start with, but it was during a pause between songs and he said something along the lines of “Well since we’re from Seattle I guess we have to look the part!” Cue a roadie to come out and bring him a baseball cap to wear backwards on his head plus a flannel shirt that he then tied around his waist. There were plenty of cheers as well as laughter, which grew when Cornell went on to add, again paraphrasing: “I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard about dudes from LA who were in glam bands trying to come up to Seattle and get something started there.”

Accurate enough, no doubt, and probably as close to a crystallized moment as any when it showed where a putative zeitgeist was definitely going. As with any such moment it too became something in the past, a ‘remember that?’ instance of a time gone. Thus my feelings about this show, something good, yet something still very far away.

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