Reprinted without permission from KERRANG!, March
KERRANG KONCERTZ EXTRA
What better way to launch Soundgarden's Superunknown album than with a superunknown gig? This event was so top secret that not even the press knew where it was happening until a few days beforehand. Come the day, 2,000 people were screaming for more, but some of them had only discovered they were going during the last 24 hours!
The Empire, previously a BBC TV theatre which hosted Terry Wogan's thrice weekly chat show, was still undergoing renovations to transform it into a modest-sized music venue. The Empire is a luxurious place, crammed with bars and lined in red velvet. And in a city starved of decent medium-sized venues, it was an obvious place to stage a warm up gig for carefully selected Soundgarden fans.
Due to officially open a week before the date of the Superunknown show, The Empire was littered with half empty paint pots, pieces of plastic tubing and men in overalls rushing to make the place for for hundreds of marauding punters.
Chosen from all over Britain by a selection process, the first of the lucky 1600 picked to attend began to arrive at lunchtime, and by showtime were frozen solid and desperate for a drink.
By 3pm on the day, waves of excitement were beginning to ripple through the freezing air. A black cab drew up and spilled four Glaswegians clutching bottles of cider and grinning like fools. Huddled on the steps were knots of goose-pimpled, army-booted devotees, refusing the warm welcome of the neighbouring pub for a first glimpse of their favourite band.
Supporting act, Artis the Spoonman - who is featured on the current Soundgarden single Spoonman abd its promo video - could be seen peering through the glass doors onto the street outside.
Plucked by bassist Ben Shepherd from the streets of Seattle, where he's bucked at the Public Market down by the waterfront for years, Artis originally made his British debut on Blue Peter and the The Paul Daniels Show. Having travelled around the world, he's now based in a bus outside Seattle, and is in England for a week - making his sole appearance tonight. On noticing him, some of the fans say hello and found themselves presented with little wooden ice cream spoons printed with Artis' phone number.
Around 3.20, a black van with tinted windows zoomed ominously around Sheperd's Bush Green. Snapper Romford Harris snatched up his shooting gear and scuttled round to the stage door in tru paparazzi style to capture the band climbing off the bus. Meanwhile a pack of eagle-eyed fans legged it round the corner, demanding autographs from their heroes, one of them literally screaming with joy when she cornered Chris Cornell. "Can't we go in yet?" inquired Kim Thayil.
Once inside the theatre, Soundgarden whistled off for soundcheck, while manager Susan Silver (aka Mrs Chris Cornell) approved the lighting effects and sorted out some remaining business. After a couple of cable TV items, Cornell disappeared back to his hotel, while the others sought out refreshment.
By 7.30 the hall began filling up, with Artis due on at 8 pm for his 15 minute slot. Cries of exclamation and surprise greeted the Spoonman, whose playing involves his whole body in a mad dance of rhythm and cutlery. 45 years old, with a shaved head and the most incredible blue eyes you've ever seen, he's a highly unusual artist, and briefly lifted the evening into another dimension. By the end the crowd were chanting and even singing Spoonman at him, as he bowed flamboyantly before tripping off.
When Soundgarden took the stage, the atmosphere was buzzing. Laying into the new Superunknown material - aside from Jesus Christ Pose, Cornell's acoustic version of Mind Riot and a select few other Badmotorfinger cuts - they aired some of their best material to date.
Maintaining a slightly mellow undercurrent throughout, which is part of Soundgarden's hypnotic secret, they coneccted perfectly though agression, rhythmic tension and psychedelic sensibility which has really flourished with the new songs, having come to fruition with Sheperd's now integral involvement. Following the weird, warped and wonderful Hater project with drummer Matt Cameron, Shepherd has intensified that element of Soundgarden which has never quite belonged on this planet.
Dispensing with the excessive frills which so often clog up brilliant music in a live situation, Soundgarden clicked in instantly, eking out the sweat with My Wave and Let Me Drown, thickening up the mood with the more melancholic Fell On Black Days, dropping in a characteristic hit of ridiculousness with Kickstand, and joining with Artis for Spoonman. After nearly two hours and two encores, they left a still hungry crowd with ringing ears to splash their way out of a pool of beer beneath the dazzling house lights.
An excellent band, a memorable evening - there's no point being flowery about it. Next time they'll have their light show (which makes Shepherd feel like he's in a disco!) so if you weren't lucky enough to have witnesses tonight's very special performance, make sure you get in on the act. You won't see Artis, which is a real shame because in an ideal world he'd have been on the whole tour. But you will be taken into the superunknown. Get yourself afraid!