Every venue has a history. Look at Shepherd’s Bush Empire and you’ll see that its story as a music venue begins with Soundgarden, and 18 years later history was set to repeat itself.
“I’ve been away for too long,” sings Chris Cornell, opening with a new number, and it’s a shared sentiment. But, can too long a break mean the band aren’t up to par?
The grunge icons are a band many have spent years listening to but never had the opportunity to see live; in fact, I was six when they broke up (you do the math). So, when a band say they will never get back together, and then they do, seeing them in this intimate a setting is expected to be sensational.
New songs theoretically could have ruined the nostalgia wave that crashed over the Empire, but at no point did it feel like they were over-plugging ‘King Animal’, despite it taking up at least a quarter of the set. The new material is met with positivity, but you can’t tell from the surging crowds, because that’s just not how this show works. It takes the big hitters like the encore’s ‘Black Hole Sun’ to really make the crowd move, but there’s just this shared feeling that it’s fantastic.
And it’s the real classics that sell this evening. ‘Outshined’ is a personal highlight, ‘Rusty Cage’ evokes one of the stronger sing alongs from those in attendance and ‘Fell On Black Days’ could have catapulted you back to the 90s in the sheer atmosphere. See, what many bands fail to do is not become a novelty after so long away, they become a tribute band to their previous self.
Soundgarden have overcome that and proved that they, like a fine wine, get better with age. Was it as anarchic and amazing as seeing them in their heyday? We can’t say. What we can say is that they are fantastic to watch now, and nothing seems to have declined in quality – not their presence, not the spark between them all, not even Chris Cornell’s vocals. They’re just relaxed. There’s no fuss, from their entrance to exit. It’s just the band, their instruments and their energy.
Closing the evening with ‘Slaves & Bulldozers’, the band leave the stage as looped distortion fills the room. Yes, you’ve been away for too long. But that’s okay, because you’ve been well worth the wait.