I was fortunate enough to land a concert review of one of my favorite bands of all-time in the absolute most beautiful venue in Kentucky. My son and I took the roughly 90 mile trip to Louisville, KY to see the grunge masters of Soundgarden at The Louisville Palace.
As a long time fan that never had the opportunity to see the band before, I thought my chances were slim to none of ever seeing the band live. That is until the band released their new album King Animal. After they announced the first leg of the tour, I was crushed to see no dates even remotely close. So, I decided to host Soundgarden Week here at Unsung Melody instead. If I couldn’t be there, I could live vicariously through the other staff members. In the end though, I’m living proof, that good things come to those who wait.
The Louisville Palace is unlike any other venue that I have ever been to. The entire building is a work of art. It must be seen to be believed. With everything from beautiful statues, to carved faces in the walls, to it’s insanely high ceiling painted in a deep blue to mimic an evening sky, The Palace truly lives up to its name.
As the lights dimmed and we prepared for the arrival of the Seattle-based grunge legends, a small curtain began to open and the backdrop was revealed as a movie screen. Fully emblazoned with the familiar circular saw style logo, first seen on the Badmotorfinger album cover, that we’ve all come to love.
Soundgarden, already strapped in and ready to roll, waved to the crowd, took to their positions and tore into Spoonman. The Louisville crowd was clearly ready to party and the band was there to provide the soundtrack.
As I’m photographing the first three songs, I’m continually moving around The Palace floor. Since there was no barricade, I was in the thick of things with everyone there and I swear to you, the temperature went from a comfortable 70° to a humid 85° in seemingly one song. For me, that was an obvious indication that this crowd was moving. That’s always a good sign to look out for. If the room heats up quickly, you’ve got a rowdy crowd and usually a responsive band that will immediately return that energy in the form of a tremendous show.
As the band continued into Jesus Christ Pose, I positioned myself where I could capture Chris Cornell doing his famous stance of extending his arms outwards as if he too were hung on a cross. Unfortunately, I never saw the pose, but what I did see was a fresh band that was delivering two fan favorites right out of the gate. As Soundgarden chugged through By Crooked Steps, the current single from their new album King Animal, I noticed that not one individual was sitting. The sheer excitement of seeing such an iconic band had kept the fans on their feet and that is a trend that continued the entire show. A true testament to just how much of an impact the band has made over time. Ending By Crooked Steps, the band met in the middle of the stage around Matt Cameron’s drum kit with Chris Cornell holding his guitar above his head, as if signaling their triumphant return. It was a great sight.
Bouncing from album to album, the band’s setlist spanned their entire career. Touching on every album and EP. They even included the song Live to Rise which was featured on the Avenger’s soundtrack. The stage set included the ever widening and shrinking movie screen with smaller curtains that swept across the front of the movie screen to make everything from a split-screen look to a divider that could shift your focus to specific scenes. It was an onslaught of the senses with all the differing video scenes, beautiful lights and of course the ultimate soundtrack provided by Soundgarden.
With very little chatter between the songs, Chris Cornell took a moment to talk a bit about Louisville being a fighting city. A tough city and one that he admired, which ultimately led into the song that honestly brought the biggest response from the crowd, Outshined. While the classic groove oriented track is definitely one of my favorite tracks ever, I wasn’t prepared for how much the song meant to everyone else. As I looked around, I saw most everyone in the audience singing every word. Yet another example of the seemingly spiritual effect that music has on people. When it’s right, it’s right. And on this night, Outshined was definitely right.
As the two-hour set moved along, I began to focus more on the band. I’ll be honest, there wasn’t a lot of excitement there. The members were pretty stationary and seemed to rely on the music and the video presentations to provide the show. I’ve witnessed a ton of bands in my lifetime and personally, I prefer to see much more movement, but that didn’t seem to bother those at The Palace. At least not nearly as much as it did me.
Some of the highlights of the set were Hunted Down, Drawing Flies, Non-State Actor, and the classic Get On The Snake. The band played some of my personal favorites as well, like Fell On Black Days, Blow Up The Outside World, Pretty Noose, Burden In My Hand, and Been Away Too Long. Fell On Black Days was one of the better vocal performances from Cornell on the night and to be honest, the range in that song is where he seemingly felt the most comfortable all night. My Wave was possibly the most energetic performance of the night, as the video screens were extremely active with footage of giant waves. During the song, Kim Thayil and Ben Shepherd switched sides of the stage for the performance and brought new energy to both sides of the crowd.
The classic Rusty Cage, with it’s high energy, ended the main set and after what seemed like an eternity to the screaming legions of fans, Soundgarden finally took the stage and blasted their way into one of, if not the heaviest performance of the night. They played the track Gun, from the album Louder Than Love. While clearly not as popular as some of their biggest hits, the crowd was extremely responsive and weren’t afraid to share their love for the band. They followed that up with Taree. A slower song from King Animal, that could have easily fit onto the album Down On The Upside. With it’s haunting melodies, the song had the crowd swaying as if they were a field of wheat in a soft Summer breeze.
Then, the band hit the first notes of the massive hit Black Hole Sun. You had to know it was coming, but still it was an amazing thing for everyone there. Falling again very comfortably into the range of this song, this era, Chris Cornell gave his best vocal performance on the night. The band ended the night with another new song, Rowing. With lyrics like, “Don’t know where I’m going I just keep on rowing. I just keep on pulling, gotta row.” My interpretation is that the song seems to be a mission statement for the band. One that says music is life and they intend to continue. A message that I’m sure every fan is happy to hear.
There isn’t a lot of chit-chat at a Soundgarden show. The focus is solely on the music. Depending upon your reason for going to a concert, that can be both good and bad. For me, I fulfilled a life long quest. I saw Soundgarden. Was it as impactful as my expectations? Sadly, my answer is no. Does that mean it was a bad show? No, not all. It simply means my expectations of the band were too lofty. While there was a ton of reverb in use by Chris Cornell, he can still bring it. After viewing some of my photos, I can see just how much of a strain his performances puts on his vocal chords. With veins popping out everywhere in his neck, he’s giving you every ounce of what he has. The band itself was as good as ever and sounded great. The visual stimulation was there all night and the crowd was feeling it. Personally, I would have liked to have seen more energy, it makes the music more exciting and believable. But let’s be honest here; they are currently in the middle of a long tour and none of us are as young as we used to be. The band will continue on and that’s really all that matters to me in the end. Their music is timeless and I’m so happy I got to see them perform.
Preview or purchase King Animal below:
Check out the Dave Grohl produced video for By Crooked Steps below: