1992 was the coronation year for grunge. Nirvana officially made the jump to the biggest band in the world, and their fellow Seattle groups were getting their fair share of attention as well. Of the big four amid the Seattle scene, Soundgarden were as close to elder statesmen as they came.
Forming in 1984 and having languished in clubs for years before any of their contemporaries had formed, Soundgarden were around for the original wave of pre-grunge rock bands who populated the city: Green River, The U-Men, Melvins, Skin Yard, and Mother Love Bone. By the time the world found out about them, Soundgarden had already released three albums.
But no matter how many miles they had on their clock, Soundgarden still approached their 1992 Pinkpop performance like a young band with something to prove. They had good reason to as well – immediately proceeding them that day were fellow Seattle rockers Pearl Jam, who were upstarts compared to the experienced Soundgarden.
Pearl Jam played like a band of wild dogs. Eddie Vedder’s dangerous penchant for climbing scaffolding and stage diving into the crowd found an ultimate release that day, leading to a mammoth set that solidified their standing as equals in terms of excitement and live performance with any grunge act. As if not to be upstaged, Soundgarden put on their own show.
Bassist Ben Shepherd skulks around the stage with his bass guitar hanging impossibly low. There’s no way that’s good for your back, but Shepherd hits all his notes. Drummer Matt Cameron is just showing off, switching which hand he leads with behind the kit to mix in open hand techniques just because he can. Guitarist Kim Thayil is a calming presence, less frantic than his bandmates and content to simply let the hurricane of guitar swirls emanate out of him.
And then there’s Chris Cornell. Hitting inhuman notes, Cornell truly cements his mix of Robert Plant and Ozzy Osbourne in this performance. Even more impressive, he hits all his cues on guitar, no matter how tricky or twisted the time signature of the song may be.
The footage that remains is a truncated version of the band’s full setlist, which showed off a number of earlier Soundgarden tracks including ‘Hands All Over’ and ‘Big Dumb Sex’. Just three songs remain, all from Badmotorfinger: ‘Rusty Cage’, ‘Jesus Christ Pose’, and a ten-minute version of ‘Slaves & Bulldozers’ to end the set. Cornell even throws in some improvised interpolations, including a bit of The Door song ‘Roadhouse Blues’ that devolves into a wild and playful scat solo.
It’s a legendary performance, and one you can watch parts of down below.