Not Just the Ticket — #29, Soundgarden, January 29, 1992

Soundgarden, Palace

Then-current album: Badmotorfinger

Opening act: Eleven

Back-of-ticket ad: KROQ, again being world famous and all. At least they were actually playing the band in question instead of just pretending to.

I just rechecked the ticket price there — $15.50! I realize there’s inflation and all but I can’t imagine how much more expensive the reunion shows will be.

And now, one of my favorite ever concerts and concert stories to tell, thanks to my friend Kris C.

Kris I’ve known for two decades now, having met in the trenches at UCLA’s radio station KLA. Hilariously dry sense of humor, feisty by default, takes no crap and in general is a sweetheart. More goth than I ever was, I don’t think I ever saw her not wearing black during that time, but not a self-serious fan by any means. She and Steve M. and I and others formed a pretty good cabal of sarcastic bastards at the station and I’ve mentioned them all at plenty of previous shows in this series.

Now, some folks in college radio eventually, for one reason or another, go ahead and find work to do in the record industry, either on their own via labels or bands or working for a larger organization. It’s a well-established route, and when you’re in LA it’s pretty easy to work for a major label given gumption and connections. I think Kris was still interning at Atlantic Records at this point and maybe had just switched over to A&M or was looking to do that, and beyond simple reasons of wanting to work with better bands — Atlantic was in a dull-as-ditchwater dry gulch around that time, and while distributing Interscope didn’t hurt ’em the main label itself only got a commercial boost a year or two later (no) thanks to Stone Temple Pilots and Hootie and the Blowfish — it didn’t hurt at all that one of her favorite bands in the universe was on A&M either. Given who this entry is about, you can guess who that was.

As muttered in previous entries here and there, Soundgarden was actually the first band I was aware of in terms of ‘hey there’s this Seattle thing going on’ discussion, and that was two years previously due to the release of Louder Than Love. Didn’t see them at that time but I enjoyed the album and some older things I heard by them, so by the time of Badmotorfinger‘s release I was pretty well primed to enjoy it — and I did though I think I was more startled by the Nirvana/Pearl Jam commercial juggernaut. But Badmotorfinger ended up suiting a mood almost all too well that first half of 1992; as mentioned in the previous entry I was struggling with my own burst of environmental and otherwise paranoia and if songs like Louder Than Love‘s “Hands All Over” had primed a state of mind then this album ending with something like “New Damage” didn’t help any.

But the larger point was that it was (and is) a very good album — listening to it now while typing this up reminds me of how, like so many other releases at the time, I don’t need to hear it anymore per se (at a certain point it all becomes inculcated in memory, like so much else in life), yet I’m reminded why I did listen to it so much. I still think the triple-punch of “Searching With My Good Eye Closed”/”Room a Thousand Years Wide”/”Mind Riot” is the key part of the whole thing above and beyond the singles, however much I was hearing “Jesus Christ Pose” and “Rusty Cage” and “Outshined” everywhere I went, and while there’s a classic sense years removed as to where the inspirations and references were from that to me were fresh and contextless then, it works well even now as a self-contained listen, and those singles are, in terms of radio-friendly unit shifters, pretty weird then and now, in arrangements, in rhythms, in the way that the band put the pieces of classic rock/heavy metal/whatever together in new shapes.

I don’t know if I ever had a favorite member of the band though — probably Kim Thayil, not just for the guitar heroics but because he had a brain, used it and also didn’t seem like he gave a damn — but for a lot of people the favorite was Chris Cornell, perhaps rather obviously. For my female friends who were fans, it DEFINITELY was obvious, and I don’t think I need to beat that one into the ground. Suffice to say Mr. Cornell struck and still strikes a rather impressive figure along with all the sing/screaming and guitar playing and so forth.

Kris was one of many openly appreciative of his qualities and so when the band came through on their first full tour for Badmotorfinger, well, going to the show was a no-brainer. Not sure who else went with — maybe her friend Amanda too, possibly other KUCI folks — and so off to the Hollywood Palace once more. The opening band, Eleven, was one of those acts that a lot of other people knew and liked and had the industry connections but never really got anywhere — they weren’t out of place like Sister Double Happiness had been at the Nirvana show but they were just kinda there. The reason for those previously mentioned connections had a lot to do with their drummer, Jack Irons, who had been the original Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer before bailing in the wake of Hillel Slovak’s death, and who had been the catalyst for introducing Eddie Vedder to Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament and thus midwifing Pearl Jam. Irons later ended up drumming for Pearl Jam, as did Matt Cameron of Soundgarden after that, so in a weird way this show predicted a sort-of future history. Kinda maybe. And the fact that I’m talking more about this rather than the Eleven set itself should show you how much I remember of said set.

Anyway, we ended up in that comfortable nook near the front of the Palace stage I’ve talked about before, to the left of the stage while facing it, next to the amps and away from the crush right up at the stagefront itself. Pretty crazy energy in that crowd, I seem to remember, something that Soundgarden always seemed to easily get going — it’s a little hard to unpack but there was a sense that they were the artiest of the bunch that had broken through, and while that’s a function of time and place it’s also hard to deny, there was something next level about them at their best. They started with “Searching With My Good Eye Closed,” a brilliant touch — the slow rise of the arrangement, a tape of the goofy smooth voiced guy from the studio recording talking about what farm animals sound like as the feedback rises and then shifting to him saying “The DEVIL says…” and Cornell stepped up to the mike to deliver the opening punch and the band slammed into full and WOW we were off. If they had just been a Led Zeppelin wannabe band they would have just been Kingdom Come; they had their own thing going instead.

Again, it’s less about the exact details than the impressions — Thayil was over near our side of the stage, hiding out under his hair and playing like a madman, Ben Shepherd looking pretty relaxed on the bass on the other side, Matt Cameron holding it down on the drums, and Cornell being Cornell, still in full long-hair mode himself and clearly loving it. Monstrously good show, the more I think about it the more moments come back, and the volume. I think my favorite moment of the show was “Mind Riot,” because it was always how I thought the song should have been done — don’t get me wrong, the full band arrangement of the studio version’s great. But live, at least in this instance and perhaps regularly out on tour, it was just Cornell and his electric guitar, stripping down the sound even further, the closest thing to a power ballad for that set while not being one at all. Something about the way he always sang “And the PO-LICE SAID this is NORMAL CONTROL” works a hell of a lot better for me than most lyrics ever did.

And then there was the moment that I’ll always, always remember from the show. As will Kris.

So as mentioned we were near the stacked amps on the side of the stage. During one song — can’t remember which, pretty sure it was an Ultramega OK number — Cornell slowly made his way over to said amps, the band pretty much kicking up a big woozy drone throb that he only added a few lines to here and there. He then climbed up on the amps and had some rock star fun singing down to us — he was essentially just six to ten feet over our heads, and so as a result there was a bit of a crush over on our end now. I remember Kris looking up at him with the biggest grin in the universe on her face — I think he had also stripped off his shirt by this point, so that probably didn’t hurt her view at all.

Then he decided to go for it — you couldn’t call it a stagedive, but I suppose it was an ampdive. I just remember a bundle of hair and jeans and more pretty much heading right past me and the next thing I knew I’d turned to the left a bit and there was Chris Cornell sitting upright on the floor with his legs out in front of him, looking a touch dazed but otherwise in one piece.

The killer touch, though, was the fact that he’d essentially landed in Kris’s lap, as she was right behind him on the floor, holding onto him around his waist for dear life. And the look on her face pretty much said it all: it was a big huge glowing thrilled smile that simply said, “MINE!”

Sadly she had to let him go. He had to finish the show and all.