Soundgarden at Hard Rock Calling 2012 review

'Little to say for big music and a lot to say for big business'

Chris Swindells - 14 July 2012

"We're honoured to be asked to play today, I mean that from the bottom of my dirty black heart." If Benji has an off day he never shows it. Mud, rain and indifference aren't going to stop Skindred (8/10). In his trademark gold suit-jacket, over his gold waistcoat, it's business as usual for the Welsh ragga-rock saviour Benji Webbe. Four albums in and today fresh from EXIT Festival in Serbia the newly recruited five piece use every opportunity to cash in on their extra man, DJ Dan Sturgess, who is called upon to spin everything from Slipknot's 'Duality' to Bond's 'Nobody Does It Better'.

A bit of foreplay with the Avengers theme tune leads effortlessly into 'Trouble' before a crafty cover of 'Sad But True' can ring around the tent. 'Nobody' mutates into 'Reigning Blood' and very soon it's hard to distinguish the hard rock from the dancehall.

Across on the main stage Iggy & The Stooges (4/10) stink of musical history, it drips from every pore and roll of cascading flesh and wrinkled flab on Pop's worn 65-year-old body. The impact of their 1969 self-titled debut can't be overlooked in the punk-rock heritage books but perhaps on today's display this is one book that deserves to stay on the shelf.

Their ode to the past in '1970' is like a grandparent drilling on about the pre-war bohemian living, it's almost certainly nauseatingly nostalgic and is about as accurate as Kim Jong-il's autobiography. Opposite Iggy, bassist Mike Watt looks in a perpetual state of desperation, like he's trying to hold in his bowels, the risk of anal prolapse perhaps so real and frightening. No such shocks become Hard Rock Calling as 'I Wanna Be Your Dog' delivers one of the only warm moments in a sea of luke warm appreciation.

It's hard with the punk fire in the belly of The Stooges, circa 1970, to imagine them back then turning up to a slick operation like this, stickered with branding, and overrun with the excesses of corporate hospitality; from American Express 'experiences' to Pepsi Max blow-up balls and exclusive guest area cocktails, under a waterproofed canopy.

Soundgarden (7/10) walk on to a stage of dirty feedback and little other fuss. 'Spoonman' is the second track in and for a song so quickly disowned by fans and critics at first play it has re-established itself as a live favourite more than a decade on. With the 'Badmotorfinger' artwork for a backdrop the Seattle grunge-rockers lean heavily on this album and it's predecessor, 1989's 'Louder Than Love' through a set that comes in just short of the two hour mark. 'Searching with My Good Eye Closed', 'Gun' and 'Jesus Christ Pose' are the first from the aforementioned albums before the band stop to acknowledge the London crowd, "We're happy to be back after 15 years." Chris Cornell says abruptly, before the ace in the pack, 'Black Hole Sun' - which pleas for the sun to "wash away the rain", and frankly does the opposite.

The skies darken and umbrellas fling open but on stage the action is warming up, Cornell's southern twang and vocal yelps have clearly worn through the years but tonight after half a set to settle his reach is greater and notes smoother as the 47-year-old singer falls into his groove. The rest of the band are playing it easier than ever, as Jimmy Page looks on from side of the stage Kim Thayil just patrols the space and keeps each guitar lick in line, punching solo after solo.

Thanking the audience for sticking with them Chris Cornell announces: "We're going to come back in a few months with a new record." A small nugget of news that can't really reignite the dampened Hyde Park masses, it's hard to see where a new album could take this band that their five LP back catalogue hasn't already been.

'Let Me Drown' recaptures this piece of despairingly wonderful studio magic from 'Super Unknown', all of the underplayed misery so fitting for the wet evening and with the grandiose Hard Rock stage in the background their more depressed numbers in the foreground seem oddly juxtaposed.

The title track from 'Super Unknown' is known to one and all - in the corporate cattle cart of punters, the poor sound and wavering vocals are just a side dish to serve with this highlight of the set.

Breaking for a short two track encore, Soundgarden have one trick left up their sleeve, 'Rusty Cage', and so after this they leave, no fireworks, no big goodbyes or electric wizardry, they step aside just ahead of curfew. The weather, sound, setting and feel has in short made for a mediocre evening, a mediocre evening with little to say for big music and a lot to say for big business.

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