Soundgarden, Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London

There’s not a duff track played in Shepherd’s Bush, the new and old making comfortable bedfellows.

Rating: 8

The Shepherd’s Bush Empire, now with that O2 logo placed above the door, opened for business 18 years ago, and tonight sees the venue’s first headliners return to the now slightly more distressed looking theatre to launch their first album since 1996’s ‘Down On The Upside’.

With no support act the crowd amass by the stage a good hour before Soundgarden take to the stage. There’s a palpable excitement amongst the throng and it’s comforting to see that the audience are a mix of young and um… not so young. There are fans here that would have been in single digits when the band split in 1997 but here they are, squeezing down the front alongside those that still remember the early 90’s when flannel and Dr Martens ruled the streets.

Making a low key entrance, there’s no need for stunts or much in the way of a stage set bar a backdrop of the artwork for forthcoming new album ‘King Animal’. The lights extinguish and the foursome launch in to the album’s opener, ‘Been Away Too Long’. Judging by the monumental, thunderous roar from the crowd they couldn’t agree with that sentiment more. What follows is a sail through the band’s back catalogue, around eleven songs of nostalgic joy including the likes of ‘Flower’ and ‘Loud Love’ that were missing from their summer shows, before we get to hear more from ‘King Animal’. What’s most pleasing is how relaxed and genuinely thrilled the band look to be performing together once again. Singer Chris Cornell is in a jovial mood, accusing one optimistic fan with a sign pleading for ‘Superunknown’ track ‘Fresh Tendrils’ as being “super high” and smuggling drugs into the country from Tel Aviv. It was funnier when he said it…

Drummer Matt Cameron, on leave from his ‘other band’ Pearl Jam, looks like the cat that got the cream. Bassist Ben Shepherd is an imposing sort, skulking about the stage like an angry bear and his bass making the kind of heavy, booming sounds that usually emanate from the heavens on a stormy night and yet even he is struggling not to crack a smile during the two hour show. Guitarist Kim Thayil barely breaks a sweat the whole night, his fingers are a blur. Cornell himself is no slouch on a six string either and with Soundgarden subscribing to some truly bizarre and complicated timecoding it’s a damn good thing the man knows his way around a Gibson. His voice is of course his gift, still possessing a magnificent wail he does not falter tonight. His dedication to the cause is evident for all to see as his white t-shirt clings sweatily to his chest so drenched is he from prowling the stage and headbanging as powerfully and venomously as he did 20 years ago.

New album ‘King Animal’ gets a decent airing with seven songs getting an outing. Standouts are ‘Black Saturday’, ‘Taree’ and the catchy ‘Rowing’ but there’s not a duff track played in Shepherd’s Bush, the new and old making comfortable bedfellows.

Always a hard band to categorise, Soundgarden’s dark and moody moments never come at the expense of melody. Finishing the evening with the almost poppy ‘The Day I Tried To Live’, ‘Black Hole Sun’ and the doomy, screamy classic ‘Slaves and Bulldozers’, sending the crowd off into the night floating on a cloud of nostalgia and real excitement and relief that the new tracks are classic Soundgarden, the perennial outsiders of the early 90s seem to be at home with their place in history and ready to embrace a fruitful future. Soundgarden, ladies and gentlemen, are back.