Soundgarden Live at Northern Invasion

Northern Invasion
Somerset, Wi
May 13, 2017 

By: Justin Beckner

Set list: Searching with My Good Eye Closed / Spoonman / Kyle Petty, Son of Richard (final performance) / Outshined / Black Hole Sun / Flower (final performance) / Room a Thousand Years Wide (final performance) / The Day I Tried to Live / My Wave / Fell on Black Days / All Your Lies / Drawing Flies / A Thousand Days Before / Rusty Cage / Blow Up the Outside World

Three stages, two solid days of music…. and on May 13 and 14, 2017, a crowd of rock fans swarmed the grounds of Somerset Amphitheatre for the third annual Northern Invasion. 2016 saw over 45,000 rockers in attendance – this year’s numbers were considerably less, but still a great crowd.

This year’s lineup included names like Kid Rock, Godsmack, The Offspring, Bush, Papa Roach, Alter Bridge, and The Pretty Reckless.

Attendees were graced with what would become one of the final headlining performances by grunge legends, Soundgarden. The set list is included above – it would be the final time the band would perform the songs, “Kyle Petty, Son of Richard”, “Flower”, and “Room a Thousand Years Wide”. Chris Cornell played guitar on several songs – sporting a beautiful black low slung Duesenberg. He prowled the stage like a lion, calmly pacing from one side to the other, his eyes stalking the sea of people. His vocal delivery was one of the most powerful I’ve ever heard. The band interacted very well with each other. There was not an excessive amount of addressing the audience between songs aside from introducing the songs - Chris did make a joke about some of the oddly titled albums (Badmotorfinger and Ultramega OK) and noted that it was guitarist, Kim [Thayl], who named all the albums. The band seemed to enjoy playing the songs, particularly the more obscure ones – there was playful interaction between them on stage. It was almost as if they could have just as well been playing in a garage somewhere, albeit at a level few garage bands could ever hope to reach.

As for me, I found myself in the photo pit, nestled next to the PA speakers with the strongest vocal mix. Shooting photos for the festival’s final band after a long day is a good feeling, especially when it’s a band you’ve loved since you were an angry kid. After the first three songs, us rock-photogs were hastily ushered from the photo pit by guys bigger than us. I bought myself a nine dollar whisky and coke and settled in to watch the rest of the show. It was only after stepping toward the back of the crowd that I was able to capture the grandeur of Chris’ performance. The timbre of his voice could give you goosebumps – few singers can do that with me. It was the raw emotion that was poured into his lyrics… lyrics that he had written long ago, but lyrics that still resonate today. That raw emotion certainly resonates with me personally, and I think Chris still feels the pain and despair today the same way he did when he wrote them, and conveys that feeling in his unique soulful way.

In a recent interview, bass player Ben Shepherd expressed a disdain for playing festivals, where fans are not in tune with new material, fearing that the band would become a legacy act. Conversely, I got the feeling the way Chris sang those songs that he feels the same about these tunes as when he wrote them.

Cold weather moved in as the late night set went on. Perhaps it was the day drinking in combination with the cold weather moving in, but the crowd slowly started dissipating after the band played “Black Hole Sun”. Later in the campsites, I quizzed people who had left the venue early why they didn’t stay. Sadly, the most prominent answer from casual fans was, “Black Hole Sun was the only song I wanted to hear.” At the time I thought it was a rather shitty thing to hear some people say (now even more so). But I think looking back now, those people leaving right after “Black Hole Sun” is probably exactly how Chris and Ben Shepherd would have wanted it. Maybe that’s why they played that track so early on in the set; to allow those festival people an early exit and leave the rest of the show –and closer standing proximity- for the long-time fans who truly appreciated the music and wanted to be there. Soundgarden was not a purely commercial band, but they earned the respect of their peers and fans by being themselves and never compromising or pandering. They were who they were. If you didn’t like it, fuck you.

When Chris said, “Thank You” and waved to the crowd and exited stage left, none of us could imagine that we had seen him for the last time. It was four days later that we learned that he had taken his own life in a hotel room soon after leaving the stage in Detroit. His death has sent shockwaves through the music industry and beyond. His legacy lives on in the music he left behind for us - Soundgarden, Audioslave, Temple of the Dog, as well as his solo work. He will be missed and remembered as one of the best singers to ever take the stage, and a lighthouse in the fog for the disenfranchised. From everyone at Classic Rock Revisited, Chris, you will remain with us, your songs are embedded in our soul and we will miss you.