"I haven't been this fucking excited about something in a long time," says Tom Morello with a huge smile on his face. "It's like I won some type of contest or something." He's saying this just as Kim Thayil, Matt Cameron and Ben Shepherd of Soundgarden are playing on stage together for the first time since 1997. The honey-throated (I'm kidding) Tad Doyle of Brothers of the Sonic Cloth is about to step back up to the microphone to sing "Spoonman" and Morello slides back to play rhythm guitar. It's a rare moment for Seattle rock and everybody in the venue knows it. Just moments earlier, the floor of The Crocodile was nearly shaking from all of the screaming fans who were waiting all night for this type of surprise. But most people didn't know what the surprise was.
From the moment I walked in the venue around 9:30, the place was wall to wall packed as the Nightwatchman, led by Morello ran through a blistering set of music. Morello's got a cool as the other side of the pillow persona and he had the crowd revved up all night as the MC of sorts. After the Nightwatchman played, Morello immediately brought out legendary Americana singer Steve Earle who hit the stage with a guitar in hand and a harmonica around his neck to loud cheers.
Earle announced he'd just finished a covers album--something he's never done before --but thankfully, it's all Townes Van Zandt songs so you can't be mad at him for that. Among the highlights of Earle's set, he performed a roaring version of "Copperhead Road," then invited Morello back on stage and the two played a kick-ass extended version of "The Ghost of Tom Joad." Earle read the lyrics off of a piece of paper which was actually cool. They sounded good together (minus a little bit of feedback), and I noticed Morello's guitar had "Arm the Homeless" painted on it.
After Earle's set, Morello stayed on and mentioned he'd recently started a secret group with Boots Riley of The Coup that wasn't much of a secret anymore. Their band is called Street Sweeper and according to Boots, who I ended up chatting with after the show, this was only their second time playing together for a crowd. Boots had his usual political-minded hip-hop lyrics razor sharp last night and it was evident as they played "Fight Smash Win," the first single off their upcoming album. I wish his vocals were up louder though as it was hard to hear him. At that point, I was standing on the mezzanine drinking a porter (it was an all ages show) so I was enjoying myself regardless.
After their set finished, Mark Arm of Mudhoney came out and played as did Wayne Kramer of the MC5. The best thing about Kramer was the kick ass red pants that he was wearing. Dude finds a way to stand out no matter what. I wish I would have caught more of his set but I was back in the Via Tribunali area eating (damn good) free pizza and drinking Heineken. Kim Thayil walked through and I overheard him say, we're going on right after they play "Kick Out the Jams." My buddy Kerri Herrop and I headed straight to the stage area--brushed past Boots and his woman, stepped on Earle's shoe by accident (sorry 'bout that) and watched Wayne play one of the songs he's most famous for, with Morello, still sitting in on guitar and Mark singing vocals. Classic.
Right after that, Tadgarden hit the stage and the place went nuts. To be honest, the elephant in the room all night was--"Is Chris Cornell going to play." If you know anything about the history of that band, you know the answer is hell no, but folks couldn't help but wonder. Earlier in the evening, I asked a sort of meatwad security guy if Chris Cornell was in the building...I couldn't help but ask, right? Dude goes (with all seriousness) "Chris Cornell, uh..yeah, that's the guy on stage, right?" Terrible. Anyway, their set was awesome. They started out playing "Nothing to Say" and even though it was a little rusty in the beginning, you could tell less than a minute in that they found a groove and stuck with it. Tad lifted his shirt up a few times, jiggled his belly, and said, "That's half a Cornell right there" with attitude. Everybody loved it. Morello jumped on as they played "Spoonman" and they closed it out with "Hunted Down." It was a damn fine, but way too short set! Possibly the closest thing to a Soundgarden reunion folks are going to see for a long time.
Everybody came back on stage, except Blue Scholars, who I missed performing earlier, to sing Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land." Morello made the whole crowd sing the chorus and we gladly obliged. Afterward, I chatted with Kim Thayil and asked him what he thought of the set..."Not bad for an hour and a half of practice after not playing together for 12 years," he said laughing. "It was a lot of fun. We played yesterday for a bit but we know all that stuff by heart so we didn't need to practice much." He also laughed about not knowing what chord to play for "This Land is Your Land" but he figured it out. I asked Morello how he felt and he said it was better than he could have imagined.
As I walked out the back of The Crocodile, there was a line of people waiting in the alley with guitars, posters, t-shirts, and any memorabilia they could think of trying to get autographs. It was a night that'll be etched in my memory for years.