“The year we released this album was the last time the Rangers won the Stanley Cup!” Chris Cornell pointed this statistic out from the stage of New York City’s Webster Hall, where he and Soundgarden rolled through their greatest album, 1994’s Superunkown, from start to finish, on the eve of the release of a deluxe 20th anniversary edition of the album.
The crowd, of course, went wild. Webster Hall is just two miles from Madison Square Garden, where the Rangers play their home games. But the moment was telling: it would have been unlikely that Cornell and Soundgarden would have made many NHL references back in ’94 when they released their tour de force. Superunknown was quite obviously a more accessible album than their earlier, more abrasive material, but like most of their peers, Soundgarden seemed ambivalent about being accepted by the mainstream.
Talking hockey would not have been cool in the indie punk underground where they got their start, and would have been a nod to the fact that more of their fans were familiar with Mark Messier than Mark Arm. Plus, Cornell wasn’t quite as big on onstage banter back then, and rarely joked. In contrast, at the end of the album performance last night, he announced, “We have assumed control of the federation and stuff,” a glib reference to the end of side one of Rush’s epic 2112.
But some things don’t change. In 1994, Webster Hall would have seemed impossibly small for a Soundgarden show, and that was still the case two decades later. If there was a bit less moshing than a show from back then would have inspired, the crowd were easily as loud and enthused about being there. It’s hard to imagine that the band would have agreed to doing a club show sponsored by Citibank bank then, as last night’s was. It’s also difficult to cling to the mores of that time and be mad at them all these years later for taking the gig.