Two reviews from the grunge years, or as I remember them, the blatherdy-shitfaced years. I recall arguments with bouncers and many many hotel cocktails before both of these. What a fkn amazing band Screaming Trees were - this post is here cos 'Nearly Lost You' popped up on an old mix CD in the car the other day and blew my day apart.
(From Melody Maker 16th November 1996 - headlined 'Aye There's The Shrub' which is atrocious but kinda likeable)
Newcastle Riverside (UK)
For a gig you might've expected to be a pissed-up, beery slop, all bum-notes and chaos, it's all in the subtleties of feel. This is the only way you can explain why Screaming Trees will never be a household name writ large across a million T-shirts.
They have made the best rock album of the year - no question - and the confines of this place should be too small for their global anthems-in-waiting. You can see no earthly reason why they aren't the biggest rock band on the planet; you realise how Chris Cornell or Eddie Vedder or even James Hetfield would kill to write anything that's played tonight. It feels impertinent to be 10 feet from the stage; you feel you ought to be two miles back and craning your neck over a sea of hands out there. This is like standing next to God at a urinal, bumping into Krishna down the launderette. And you have to find a reason, Why here, why now? And the answer's deep snobbishness doesn't matter.
Screaming Trees are just too good to be huge, to be spread thin. This music, these songs, are too hard fought for to have the immediate simplicity MTV and its raw teen audience require. I'm not saying the huge audience the Trees should have are simply too stupid to grasp them; I think they're just too young to fully identify with Mark Lanegan's mordant bitterness, his almost mystical resignation.
Everything is in place tonight for Just Another Rock Show, but the Trees, perversely (naturally) have to take things beyond the simple stimulus-response of riff and power and into something approaching magic and mathematics. "Shadow Of The Season", which kicks off tonight, is just too dark, too pulverisingly propelled to have ever been their "Teen Spirit", no matter how much you might want it to be. "Nearly Lost You" soon follows, a constant skipped groove of explosions and fades, while "Halo Of Ashes" rises horribly/wonderfully out of itself, shedding its rhythmic weight to cruise a wave of pure, stunningly executed feedback for a good minute, leaving the moshpit static, shocked in awe. "Dollar Bill" wrings tears from our drunken lungs; "All I Know" has Gary Conner writhing like a child in his own genius; "Butterfly" reminding too many of us of '92 and nights lost in sweet oblivion. "Make My Mind" launches itself, so blazing with heart-tugging hooks you're left gasping at Lanegan's steely nonchalance in its whirlpool, "The Secret Kind" and "Winter Song" take you to the point of emotional exhaustion before "Gospel Plow" finishes you off, speechless and hopeless now, just scattered around like a leaf, mouth lolling in abject surrender.
Hell, maybe it's just bad luck, airplay, image, the usual. Me, I'm filing Screaming Trees next to those bands beamed in from Venus whose sheer greatness seemed to actually stop them at the door to the success they deserved; Rex, Thin White Rope, Shudder To Think, Shiva Burlesque. Tonight was an intimate, heart-stopping lurve-thang and I'd like to keep it that way. When they get Xmas Number One, feel free to scoff at my repellent elitism. This is a beautiful, beautiful thing. This is unforgettable.
Perfect. As only the superficial can be.
I have absolutely no desire to know what Chris Cornell is on about. He's a miserable fucker, a bad poet with a nasty beard. His lyrics are all along the go-nowhere, do-nothing, kill-everything, hate-everyone line that Americans seem to find so much truth in (well, living in the most successful police state in the world must get you down). I suspect him of being an idiot, a narrow-minded killjoy or, failing that, a disingenuous mountebank. Whatever, I don't care about Soundgarden being 'real' or 'significant'; what's glorious about them is just how enormously enjoyable they are as a Two-Dimensional Experience, as The Rock Band perfected, pristine, state-of-the-art and beamed into your home.
Soundgarden take the whole lexicon of big, chundering, blazing, heavy rock, brutally excising all the frills and flatulence to create a seamless run of stacked-up riffs and postures that you just have to drown in. And for me, the thrill is entirely soulless, it's a pure buzz, a sonic hit to rival The Prodigy or Slayer, all flash and chrome and diesel.
Me and my mate don't know the new LP, so when they kick off with "Let Me Drown" and "Searching With My Good Eye Closed" we simultaneously look at each other wide-eyed and grinning in one of those sad but magic moments that only happen at gigs. And criminy, they fuckin' ROCK. The sound is fearsome, but what it lacks in finesse it makes up for in sheer juggernaut weight. In fact, the muddiness and the messiness are sublime in reducing Soundgarden to their brute best - a hulking, glowering bodyslam of sound, heavy on the lo-end, splattered and soiled with a trillion riffs.
"Rusty Cage" soon follows and we're grinding everything but our teeth, the song still saved by that face-out; it's just the greatest piece of see-sawing, hands-on-hips headbutt boogie (taste that word, stick yer tongue in it and and lap it up, it should taste GAMEY) you've ever heard, churned funkily through tonight, unfortunately not with the back'n'forth Quo lunges it so clearly deserves. In the pit we stare up at the balcony at their mute inertia and laugh.
Down here we're flipping wads to "Outshined" before Chris takes the spotlight for the so-predictable-it's-godlike solo in "Black Hole Sun". "Spoonman" rips through the sky, just the lumpiest, ugliest sound you'll ever love, the thunk-a-funk beats pummelling my intensely drunken head good 'n' painful.
"Pretty Noose" is so fucking charged, so million-volt razing, so flawlessly constructed that you expect the back curtain to drop and reveal The Young Gods on the mix; then "Blow Up The Outside World" takes what's left of your grinning soul and presses it up against its own gleaming heat until you're dust. Off, then, before being screamed back for a bizarre encore of Beefheart's "Drop Out Boogie", and then they're off again, and you're gagging for more.
I imagine Soundgarden backstage after, unplugging the circuits, plugging themselves in for the night, a team of white-suited experts monitoring their oil levels. Real metal machine music.