Hard Rock Calling: Soundgarden unleash the Superunknown in Hyde Park
Fans trudged into the surreal, hyper-corporate arena of Hyde Park’s Hard Rock Calling on Friday night with mixed emotions and low expectations. Noticeably undersold and a tonne of woodchip away from being a total mud-bath, on paper the event promised to be a rather quaint trip down memory lane, with former grunge overlords Soundgarden topping the bill 15 years after splitting up.
Support on the main stage came from Iggy & The Stooges, who battled sound issues to deliver a manic set of fan favourites (Search & Destroy, I Wanna Be Your Dog) and deeper cuts from the Raw Power era. Iggy Pop’s contortionist moves and overt nihilism on tracks like Fun House and Open Up And Bleed proved to be too much for a crowd who probably knows him best from his recent insurance adverts – he seemed to acknowledge as much with a particularly pointed version of No Fun, but brushed off the indifference with a knowing grin and soon had everyone on their feet.
The headliners took to the stage soon after with a flurry of hits like Spoonman and Jesus Christ Pose, prompting fans to wonder what they had up their sleeves for the remaining hour and a half of the show. As it turned out, we needn’t have worried – the band dug deep and delivered what can only be described as a Soundgarden fans’ dream set list, which leaned heavily on the bands two classic albums, Badmotorfinger and Superunknown. Album tracks, you say? Try Drawing Flies and an apocalyptic 4th of July. Singalongs? Blow Up The Outside World and Black Hole Sun – in a perfectly timed downpour, no less – should do the trick. And for sheer, unadulterated heaviness, Ugly Truth and Beyond The Wheel had the crowd rolling back the years with a communal, rain-soaked head-bang.
The main cause for concern prior to the gig was whether frontman Chris Cornell’s voice could recapture the shrieking glories of yesteryear, after a decade of misuse in Audioslave and regrettable solo projects. It may have been a little ragged – yours would be too, if your job consisted of screaming as loud as you could over gale-force guitars – but he held the show together with exemplary rock star poses and gracious banter, and even after two hours, was able to belt out an encore of Rusty Cage and Slaves & Bulldozers, while his band mates – in particular the formidable rhythm section of Matt Cameron and Ben Shepherd – created an impossibly heavy maelstrom of sound behind him. All in all, this was a triumphant, muddy return to London for the dark horses of grunge, which bodes well for their first post-reformation album this autumn.