Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Soundgarden: Professional Assholes

I was waiting so impatiently for August 19th, 1994 to arrive. 364 days after the best show I've ever seen (Pearl Jam, 1993-08-20, Verdun Auditorium), it was Soundgarden's turn to rock the Auditorium.

Those two bands had so much in common, they were practically sister bands: Pearl Jam had come to be only after the death (by overdose) of Andy Wood, lead singer of Mother Love Bone, when half the band (Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard) went looking for something new. As ''luck'' would have it, Chris Cornell, leader of Soundgarden, was his roommate. When Wood died, Cornell, his bandmates and a few friends who had known him got together to record the Temple Of The Dog record, 10 songs released in 1991 in tribute to Wood, most written entirely by Cornell, except three where Gossard created the music to accompany Cornell's words.

One of those songs, Times Of Trouble, was later re-made by Pearl Jam, keeping the music, but with Eddie Vedder creating new lyrics and vocal pieces for a track now named Footsteps.

And Soundgarden's drummer, Matt Cameron, was actually behind the kit for the demos Pearl Jam recorded when they were shopping their songs to labels; he has also been their permanent drummer since a 1998 accident caused Jack Irons to forfeit the Yield tour, never to return.

So when 1994 came around, Soundgarden were touring what turned out to be their most successful record, Superunknown, a record on which they seemingly abandoned their previous ''heavy metal'' sound in favour of a more subtle and subdued approach reminiscent of Pearl Jam's sound, while Cornell himself, at the time known for his high-pitched squeals, like most of his contemporaries, took on a Vedder-like low growl where lyrics were now mumbled instead. But the songs were very strong.

They had lost some originality but were following some pretty solid footsteps, as PJ, at the time, could do no wrong: consecutive record-breaking release dates, taking over airwaves for pirate radio shows, fighting for low concert ticket prices, and a reputation for being the best live act in the world.

It was a no-brainer when came the time to purchase my show tickets. The show's date and the place where it was set to happen made the coincidences look like an alignment of stars any fortune teller would call ''fate''.

All summer long, as the sounds of Black Hole Sun took over from the riff-mania that was Spoonman on the radio and on TV music channels, as interest grew for this sold-out show, I looked forward to a night of awesomeness. I was even more excited when they announced the Reverend Horton Heat was going to open for them; we were getting top-notch talent, the same show Americans were getting, which to this day is still a little unusual. There are still acts who can't make it through the border and have to be replaced by local talent, which dims the overall spectacularness of the evening more often than not.

The day before, I had gone to the local HMV record store as I had a habit of doing when downtown, and purchased a CD (I forget which one) and a poster - that I still have. A typical band poster where all members can be seen from head to toe in front of a generic landscape that seemingly never ends. The band was Jesus Lizard, who are coming back in town this Fall, as it so happens, after perhaps a decade on hiatus.

After that, I went to see a movie at Place Alexis-Nihon, which no longer exists, but there's an AMC theater accross the street from where it used to be... where our hockey team used to play (Le Forum, the Temple Of Hockey in the Mecca of hockey, but I digress). I forget which movie, and who I was with, but I'll never forget what happened there.

An usher, having realized I was wearing a Soundgarden T-shirt (basically the Badmotorfinger album cover) came up to me to tell me ''hey man, 'The Dude from Soundgarden', your shirt, he's HERE, he's watching a movie right now, you want to meet him? His movie ends in like 5 minutes, I'll catch him when he gets out''.

And catch him he did. There was Kim Thayill, lead guitarist and one of the hairiest humans on the planet, accompanied by two, uh, ladies (one on each arm), stepping out of the screening room, and the usher forcing himself onto him like a bulimic running for an empty toilet stall, knocking other people on his way there. He points to me, in the distance yet at the front of my lane, and he (the usher) looks like a hyperventilating Britney Spears fan who wants her to be ''left alone'' - you know the type.

And there comes Thayill, with his two, uh, escorts, walking over to me.

''I guess you want an autograph?'', he asks, a black Sharpie pen already on him.

''Uh, yeah, sure, why not'' I answer, looking in my pocket for him to sign my movie ticket stub since I didn't have anything else to write on, really, when he takes my poster from out of my hands and signs its back, the white part, behind where the picture is, and he leaves.

I turn to the person I was with and tell her: ''the bastard! He ruined my Jesus Lizard poster!''

Indeed, what kind of motherfucker signs a poster without checking if he's on it first? He could have killed two birds with one stone just by attempting to sign the picture at least, where he'd have seen it wasn't his band on it...

So I left the theater angry after seeing a movie I don't even remember anymore (possibly Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, but who knows, really?) and went home to dream about how great the next day's performance was going to be. Because if there's one thing I've learned from television, it's that stars can sometimes be total jerk-offs all the while doing their job (be it acting, singing, playing music, directing, or ''being Paris Hilton'', whatever she does) very well.

The day went by pretty quickly and can be summed up pretty easily: a bunch of friends and I, separately or together, at some point, were all getting ready to go to the show. Verdun Auditorium is situated on the island of Montréal, close to downtown, and is two blocks away from a subway station, in a district called Verdun. In 1994, it was its own city but has since been incorporated into Montréal, so they could have a reason for their streets to be filthy, and to pay higher property taxes. The Auditorium is one of the warmest amphitheaters in the city for rock shows, which is ironic considering it's a small-to-mid-size hockey arena (sitting upwards of 5000 people per game).

Reverend Horton Heat rocks the house and, indeed, brings the heat in. We all resort to drinking beer because it is cheaper than water but also because the place is boiling; the walls are wet from sweat and condensation, people are fainting, it will be a night to remember for those of us who will stay awake to see all of it.

Soundgarden takes the stage and, as is to be expected, girls go wild for Cornell and a frenzy develops up front, where most of the people I know are, including my friend Sylvie, who hopes to be as lucky as last year, when she spent most of Pearl Jam's show making out with a total stranger whose name she never got and whom she never saw again. I'm at the right-hand of the stage, crowd-wise, left-hand side for the band, right in front of bass player Ben Shepherd.

By the fourth of fith song in, the heat is unbearable. I get a flash that sometimes, at Verdun, firemen hose people when it gets too hot, but none of them are in sight. Shepherd, however, has over a dozen water bottles on his bass amp, and drinks from them often. At song six, he feigns giving one to an audience member, then proceeds to just empty it out on the fucking stage. Just like that, wasting the water, taunting us. And he does it again and again.

Thayill is at the other end completely, totally ignoring the crowd, more often than not facing drummer Matt Cameron, the rest of the time looking at the floor. Cornell, for his part, tries to be the rock god he's always dreamed of being, what with Bono-like arm extensions to the ceiling and to the crowd and, of course, the inevitable Jesus Christ Pose.

But rock stars attract teenage girls, and apparently Cornell, true to his indie/street-cred reputation of a real and faithful and loving married man wanted nothing of it, so when Black Hole Sun started and little girls were throwing their hands up to Cornell who had let go of his guitar and was strutting at the edge of the stage pretending to mingle with fans, all he could think of doing was hitting them on the hands with his microphone, not in a ''high-five'' kind of way, but more like a ''I will break your fingers'' kind of way... which was so wrong.

After two hours of bad-sounding half-assed rocking in an arena that was too hot, Cornell and co. left the building - and so did 5000 of us, most of us extremely disappointed, some of us angered, at least one of us thinking Soundgarden were nothing but Professional Assholes.

P.S.: Matt Cameron, hidden behind his drum kit for the whole of the evening, did nothing asshole-y, I must admit. But I think I still begrudge him his former bandmates because as of today, 2009, he is still the only member of Pearl Jam I wouldn't follow blindly. Maybe it also has something to do with the fact that he replaced my favourite drummer (Irons) in my favourite band...


jennifer said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



Sébastian Hell said...

Wow, thanks so much for the kind words. I had no idea people actually read this!