with Eleven, Soundgarden at Wallace Civic Center
by Joey Ammo
June 18 was one of those oppressively hot evenings, with the accompanying cumulus cloud humidity factor. Animals dead from dehydration lined the sidewalks of Fitchburg as we tried to find the unmarked Wallace Civic Center, a venue that represents the worst of hockey rink arenas. Without a single highway or town sign to guide us, we finally stumbled upon this archaic monument to consumer disregard.
At showtime, we herded in with the rest of the cows to find a deathtrap general admission scenario: Slick floors, overflowing bathroom stalls, unlit stairs, no ushers, pitiful sound, and, of course, the ritual absorption of our fellow fans’ perspiration in the 110 degree cavern. Gleefully, we abused our press pass privileges to exit and re-enter this coffin to get some fresh(er) air and drink the coldies stashed in our cooler, defying the Gestapo Fitchburg Finest who were vigilantly patrolling the lots all night hunting for victims. There was, however, a palpable energy surrounding the place and as long-time Soundgarden fans we were caught up in it, much to our chagrin.
Tad opened the funhouse with the bellowing death-grunge noise songs from their new release, Inhaler. Some three-hundred pounds of scaryman, the wild-eyed bear Tad Doyle shouted out his anthemic hooks, pounding the stage floor into new shapes. His long, stringy hair whipped around his burly, bearded face while the band obliged with all the appropriate bombastic rhythms and guitar feedback/dissonant sludge. Tad put on a sincere performance despite the brutally tropic atmosphere (more on this issue later), and I gave them my highest personal rating, comparing them to Nirvana’s landmark Bleach album. Tad even gave the crowd an intimate view of himself when he held up the Gibson SG he played explaining that Chris Cornell had given it to him that day and declaring “You can die happy when you got friends.” Like his other friends, Mudhoney and the Melvins, Tad has always known, played with, and inspired the Seattle greats (he was a close friend of Kurt Cobain’s) but fame has so far passed them over. Still, they were passionate and enthusiastic. Clearly, my pick of the evening was Tad.
If Tad was a grizzly bear, then Alan Johannes, lead singer/guitarist for Eleven might have been a Koala bear, about as cuddly as a shaven-bald, heavily tattooed man could be. Along with former Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Jack Irons and keyboardist Natasha Shneider (a woman who could be a fashion model if she weren’t playing in a band), Eleven create a sound that is hard to describe. The radio-friendly “Crash Today” and “Reach Out,” from their eponymous Hollywood Records release, Eleven have Johannes and company sounding like a glorified Sugar; strong melodies with a perhaps too glamorous vocal. Hand the mic over to the lovely Shneider however, and you might think you were listening to a duet by a steroid-enhanced Annie Lenox and an overzealous organist. Boys and band do have untouchable credibility, spawning from the famous Fairfax High scene with Anthony Keitis and Flea (who was a member of What Is This with both men) and touring extensively with Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. While perhaps a let down after Tad, their live set was both aggressively rocking and fun, Johannes shooting the steaming audience with a water rifle, and the crowd responding in turn. Too bad the joviality that Eleven created on stage would prove to be sorely missing from the deadly earnestness that was to follow.
Writers note: I had a lengthy and personal piece on Soundgarden that went here, but because A&M neglected to send us promo material or return calls, my Editor gave it the axe. Such is the wonderful world of rock journalism. Suffice to say that Superunknown is a better album than was originally perceived and, perhaps far more relevant, Soundgarden’s performance on this evening was not only dull and disappointing but displayed apathetic and sarcastic attitudes I never would have believed this band could embrace on their worst night. As a long time fan, I can only hope that this is not an indication of what their much-deserved success has finally done to them.