Friday, August 1, 2014

Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden @ Susquehanna Bank Center - Camden, NJ 07/30/14

I love both of these bands.  I do.  But when I heard that they were playing Camden I initially balked.  It has nothing to do with my love for the bands.  Its quite the opposite.

I have seen both of these bands before.  both in their heyday.  Both when they were most important in my life.  I saw NIN in 1990 at The Torcadero Theater in Philadelphia.  They opened for Jesus and Mary Chain.  The stage show for J&MC was enormous, and NIN was relatively unknown so they were made to play on the floor directly in front of the stage.  There were maybe 30 to 50 of us in attendance and our minds were blown.  I had heard 'Sin' and 'Head Like a Hole' on Trenton State College's radio station but we were not prepared for this assault.  Trent threw beer on us, he beat up his band, he broke their instruments, and he dragged the keyboard player across the floor by his hair.  One guy in the audience was in such a frenzy he jumped on my back.  It is a concert experience I will never forget.

I had seen Soundgarden during Lollapalooza '92.  It was a crazy day at Montage Mountain in PA and when Soundgarden took the stage after Pearl Jam they took hold of the audience.  By the time they played a cover of Body Counts 'Cop Killer' I thought my head was going to explode.  And that wasn't from the drugs either.  Another unforgettable experience.

After these life highlights I wasn't sure that I wanted to see them at a larger, outdoor venue.  So when a friend asked if I wanted to go I told her no.  I wanted to leave my memories in tact.  Here is the great thing about friends.  They know you better than you do.  A mutual friend of ours stepped in and offered us free tickets.  How can you say no to free tickets?  You can't!  Did I mention that I have the best friends???

The only problem now was to wait months for the show.

We decided to arrive early for a few reasons.  The first was it is much better to have a few beers in the parking lot than to pay the $11.00 a piece inside the venue.  Second, with three band on the lineup, two of which could be headliners, we were not sure what time the show would begin.

After having a quick beer we realized we should probably pick up our tickets and make our way inside.  The show had 7:00 start time and it was already after 7:00.  We really weren't interested in seeing the opening act, Oneohtrix Point Never, who were filling in after the surprise break up of Death Grips.  We did, however, not want to miss the start of Soundgarden.

Soundgarden and NIN both share a connection.  They both released their Swan Song on the same date in 1994.   Superunknown debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts where The Downward Spiral debuted at #2.  It is a little ironic that now Soundgarden is opening for Nine Inch Nails..

We picked up our tickets and to our surprise they were about 15th front and center!!!  It was going to be a great night.  We grabbed a quick bite to eat (I was so excited about going to the show that I forgot to eat dinner) and right as we finished we heard Soundgarden take the stage.  It was 7:40.  We rushed in to see this!

They open with 'Searching with my Good Eye Closes' from Badmotorfinger.  What a way to kick things off.  It was great to see the band back together.  The only difference was Matt Chamberlain on drums filling in for Matt Cameron while he is touring with Pear Jam.  Cameron has been with Pearl Jam since Soundgarden's 1997 break up.

Honestly, I feel they sounded better than ever.  There were no frills on that stage.  Just good musicianship. They sounded tight.

Given it is the 20th anniversary of Superunknown I was not surprised that the setlist was heavy on that album.  I was surprised though at the lack of material from Down on the Upside.  I know that album had been criticized for being 'light' or more commercial but I still felt it had strong moments.  The amount of material from Badmotorfinger made up for it. 

Outshined was a definite highlight for me.  Chris Cornell's chops are still in high gear even at 50.  We were discussing that perhaps he was having more trouble with the low end of his range than the high end.

The one thing that I did notice that differentiated this performance from Lollapalooza 92 was the energy level.  Gone were that angry youth moshing in the front.  It was a very diverse crowd.  One that was there to listen.   It wasn't the all out blitz of years past but it was an extremely strong performance.

After 14 songs they were done.  And way too soon.  They were just hitting their stride with 'Rusty Cage'.  I just wasn't done yet.  It's weird to see your idols with 20 years in between.  The nice thing about it is you are also 20 years older too.  I grew with them.  I was ready for this.  I only wish that my phone took better photos.  Fortunately, my friends had their camera.

Photo Courtesy of Beth Zsak.

Now it was just a waiting game for Trent to come out.  The stage was bare and we noticed that there were no instruments set up.  There was a backdrop.  A solitary light and a microphone stand finished the set.  We were wondering when the stage would set.  Just then a roadie walked out to the microphone.  After a second or two there were a few cheers when the crowd started to realize that it was not a roadie.  It was Trent.  The music kicked in and he started with 'Somewhat Damaged'

One by one the band entered the stage.  The drummer, on his stand,  was rolled out onto the stage.  The music was powerful.  There wasn't a need for more that this.  It was us and them.  I was pulled in.

After the first song the curtain dropped and lights were rolled out.  This became a running theme. The landscape changed with every song. 

What I found even more incredible was the musicianship of the band members.  The drummer was INCREDIBLE.  You have to be to keep up with the 298 BPM of March of the Pigs.  The biggest surprise was that he also played bass and keyboard.  They all played different instruments.  Again...another strong set.

I was surprised at the lack of material from Pretty Hate Machine and With Teeth. Two of my favorites.  Both finally made an appearance near the end of the set.  They were part of the climax.

Again, what a difference 20 years makes.  I was afraid that they would rely to heavily on lights and ambiance.  Instead it was carried by the strength of the message.  Trent wasn't covered in mud, or destroying instruments, or throwing around band mates.  It was just him and us.

There was an incredible build up to the last 5 songs.  And then it was done.  We were alone.

Photo Courtesy of Chris Daccardi
Before we had a chance to even yell encore they were back.  It started with one of my favorite tracks from The Fragile, 'The Day the World Went Away' and ended with 'Hurt'.  'Hurt seemed more powerful than ever.  The imagery and sentiment were strong.  It was almost as if the music were playing in our heads and we were experiencing the emotion as a whole.  And then the lights came on.

Photo Courtesy of Beth Zsak

Was this experience better than my previous experiences?  No.  But they weren't worse.  They were just different.  And they both felt right at the time.  I wouldn't change a thing about either. 

See you in the next seat!


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