Soundgarden Rewind: 1994's 'Superunknown' Gets Its Due (Video)
"It was that perfect meeting of the Beatles and Black Sabbath," Dave Grohl says about Soundgarden's breakthrough album, Superunknown, released two decades ago. "I don't think those two elements had ever been successfully paired until that record. It was so much more melodically sophisticated than anything any of the other bands in Seattle were doing -- or in rock. It was a big deal."
Such a big deal that Soundgarden performed the album in its entirely last night at New York's Webster Hall. The show was recorded for Sirius XM and will air on Howard 101, June 13 at 10 p.m. ET.
Come to think of it, Superunknown is a pretty psychedelic album, leaning heavily in the direction of Revolver and Sgt. Pepper's-era Beatles.
"That record really just raised the bar for everyone," Grohl adds in an interview conducted to promote the release of Universal Music Enterprises' 20th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition -- four CDs filled with rehearsal takes and demos as well as the original album.
"Sonically it was way beyond anything anybody had done within our scene. Melodically, again, [it was] just so much more sophisticated than anything else we felt like we were capable of doing. And the performances. They're just amazing players. Nobody had a voice like Chris. Nobody played drums like Matt. They were an incredible band."
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He's referring to half of the stellar quartet that includes yelper Chris Cornell, guitar maestro Kim Thayil, bassist extraordinaire Ben Shepherd and mad thumper Matt Cameron, who over the years has doubled with that other great surviving Seattle band, Pearl Jam.
Grohl says Soundgarden was the first group to get signed and have major commercial success out of the Seattle music scene in the later '80s and early '90s (of course Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains would soon follow). After their debut on SST, Ultramega OK, and first album with A&M, Louder Than Love, Soundgarden crashed the Top 40 with their powerhouse third album, Badmotorfinger. But it was the follow-up, Superunknown -- featuring a slew of hits such as "Black Hole Sun" and "Spoonman" -- that would earn Soundgarden numerous Grammy awards and its place in rock history.
Fans came to salute and celebrate with them as they played the 1994 album's 15 tracks from start to finish. Tickets began at the affordable and appropriate $19.94 and quickly skyrocketed like Cornell's voice to over $300 each at StubHub. Not a particularly large venue for a band the size of Soundgarden, the packed Webster Hall, with its poor sight lines but intimate feel, sufficed.
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About halfway through, Cornell told the crowd that an album's worth of material does not make a complete show. "The album is 74 minutes," he explained, "so we're stretching it out." They then launched into their one true anthem, "Black Hole Sun," with its shimmering guitar and sing-a-long lyrics ("won't you come and wash away the rain"). The stretching continued on "4th of July," Superunknown's trippy centerpiece, which is reportedly about the effects of LSD.
At one point, the band joined in during a between-song chant of "Let's Go Rangers" from the city's hockey faithful (the hometown hockey team meet the Kings in the Stanley Cup finals starting tomorrow night). But it was soon back to Soundgarden's thick mix of grunge and psychedelia on songs like "The Day I Tried to Live" and "Fresh Tendrils," finally finishing with the searing and contemplative "Like Suicide."
Ever the crowd-pleasers, the band came back for an encore, completing the 105-minute show with two faves from Badmotorfinger, "Outshined" and "Rusty Cage," during which Cornell unleashed his trademark high-pitched howls.
"Next time we come to this venue, we're going to play King Animal," the band's 2012 album, he joked. That's highly unlikely. But stay tuned for the 30th anniversary of Badmotorfinger in 2021. That should be a blast.