Rocket Queen: Loud Love

Soundgarden’s “secret” reunion show was a triumphant affair.

In 1994, just a few months before frontman Kurt Cobain took his own life, I attended Nirvana's extremely sold-out show at what was then called the Seattle Center Arena. I wasn't supposed to go. Tickets had been sold via lottery and the odds weren't in my favor; I spent all day standing outside a Ticketmaster outlet, only to watch giddy fellow fans snatch up their tickets and skip joyously out the door.The day of the show, they released an additional small block of tickets. Fortuitously, I was in my car when this was announced on the radio. I drove straight to the now-defunct Wherehouse record store on Broadway and snagged two. When I told my best friend that we were now going to the concert we'd been certain we were shut out of, he screamed like a little girl.The scene on the sidewalk outside the Showbox (and within the virtual environments of Facebook and Twitter) prior to Soundgarden's not-so-secret reunion show last Friday—performing as "Nudedragons"—reminded me how intensely emotions can run in either direction when tickets are this coveted. Moments after tickets went on sale online at 10 a.m., my Facebook feed turned into an avalanche of elation and despair, as people collectively refreshed their browsers ad nauseam in hopes of being one of the lucky few who'd get to see one of Seattle's all-time biggest bands play together onstage for the first time in nearly 14 years. Predictably, tickets went in a heartbeat. Much to the dismay of the 70-plus crowd of fans waiting expectantly in line for the Showbox box office to open, no tickets were available for purchase at the venue.That night, as ticket holders queued for entry, they walked past desperate fans holding signs advertising triple-digit offers for tickets—and one young woman, in an especially heartbreaking scene, simply giving up and bawling her eyes out. Showbox general manager Jeff Steichen was surrounded by a chattering gaggle of male fans, trying to find an angle in. Inside the private, friends-and-family bar was a grunge-era reunion with a downright euphoric vibe, with everyone from Mudhoney's Mark Arm to grunge godfather Jack Endino grinning broadly, while the anticipation in the room built to unbearable levels until Soundgarden took the stage just after 10 p.m.The opening number, "Spoonman," was a little wobbly, but as soon as they followed that with back-catalog favorite "Gun," they seemed to be finding their sea legs. They'd spent the prior week rehearsing at Greenwood's Avast! studios, and it showed: There were no audible technical missteps from that point forward. The deep-cuts-focused set list, which included tracks from their 1988 SST debut Ultramega OK and 1989's Louder Than Love, was a wise choice for the hometown crowd. The "hit single" factor was relatively minimal, and included "Outshined" and "Fell on Black Days" from the band's radio-friendly output.Frontman Chris Cornell reclaimed his hirsute status, with his curly mop grown shoulder-length for the occasion. Bassist Ben Shepherd and guitarist Kim Thayil were somewhat more restrained and focused but obviously happy to be home, cracking smiles once they settled into the 90-minute set, which was capped with a triple encore of "Get on the Snake," "Big Dumb Sex," and a reinterpretation of the Doors' "Waiting for the Sun"—which, truth be told, didn't work terribly well, but did nothing to take away from what had essentially been a wet dream for old-school fans.Back at an after-party in Ballard, Shepherd, who is currently finishing up his first solo record, celebrated with a glowing crowd of friends, including Big Business/Melvins drummer Coady Willis, who had flown up from Los Angeles that morning as soon as he'd gotten word of the show. "It was weird," said Shepherd, reflecting on the incredibly warm and reverent reception the band got from the crowd. "I'm used to people throwing things at me!"Next on the official Soundgarden itinerary is their appearance at Lollapalooza in Chicago in August alongside incongruous co-headliners Lady Gaga and Phoenix, though speculations about a Bumbershoot slot have started circulating already. We can only hope; reunions are rarely this triumphantly executed, and hopefully nothing will hold them back from continuing forward.rocketqueen@seattleweekly.com

 
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