Last night (November 12) Soundgarden performed a nearly hour-long set comprising mainly of new material at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City as part of the Live On Letterman concert series.
Before they started, singer Chris Cornell joked “This next one’s called ‘Twist And Shout,'” nodding to the theater’s Beatles-heavy past. Of course, nothing in the band’s catalog sounds remotely like the cheery anthems played by the Fab Four on that same stage decades earlier. Indeed, Soundgarden showed that their time apart hasn’t mellowed their musical attack.
Although it’s been sixteen years since Soundgarden released a new album, their new material is as heavy and creepy as ever. And the band seem extremely enthused about their new music; dedicating 70% of their set to songs from King Animal, due out today (November 13).
Opening with two new songs, “Worse Dreams” and “By Crooked Steps,” they then dove deep into their catalog for two songs from their full length debut album, 1988’s Ultramega OK, “Incessant Mace” and “Beyond The Wheel.” Both songs served as a reminder that, while the band may be most well known as one of the huge successes of the ’90s Lollapalooza era, their roots were firmly in the indie-label underground. When the group was putting out LPs and 7″s on SST and SubPop, the idea that they might become arena headliners — or the type of band to grace the stage at the Ed Sullivan Theater — seemed extremely unlikely. The Ultramega OK songs were a reminder of truly how far the band has come.
The band has done a few reunion tours since getting back together in 2010, so the fans have had a chance to hear their more well-known earlier material (and they are about to kick off a tour, so there will be many more chances). So after dipping into 1988, they came back to the present with more new songs: “Taree,” “A Thousand Days Before,” “Eyelids Mouth” and “Non-State Actor.”
After that, they played their only “hit” of the night: mid-tempo “Fell On Black Days” from their most popular album, 1994’s Superunknown. The expected encore might have been “Been Away Too Long,” their latest single and (perhaps) current mission statement. But maybe because they played it for Late Show With David Letterman earlier in the day, they went with another new song, “Rowing.”
Any band with a history extending back two decades might be expected to play more hits at such a high-profile webcast, but Soundgarden has never pandered to expectations; their mission was to prove that their new music holds up to their earlier material, and judging by the audience reaction, the crows was with them.