In the spring of 1992, Soundgarden were well on their way from being Seattle scene underdogs to international superstars, thanks to the skyrocketing success of their third LP Badmotorfinger. This bootleg video from a gig at Philadelphia’s legendary Trocadero Theater on May 10, 1992 bottles the magic of the band pre-peak: the distressed psychedelia of Superunknown was still years away, as was MTV heavy rotation and arena-size audiences that came with it; they hadn’t even played Lollapalooza yet. (They would that summer, though.) So it was a time when Chris Cornell and his bandmates still had that down-to-earth rocker-dude humility, but mixed with the tightness and precision of a band whose core members had been performing with one another for more than half a decade.
Most of Badmotorfinger is showcased in this show’s setlist, but also a healthy dose of Louder Than Love and Ultramega OK (a roaring nine-minute take on “Incessant Mace” where Cornell crowd surfs on the outstretched hands of fans is truly the set’s centerpiece), as well as a throwback to the band’s debut EP (“Hunted Down”). Which is to say this is slow and low sludgy Soundgarden at its finest. Zeppelin and Sabbath reference points abound; a long lead-in to “Mind Riot” features Cornell singing a verse of “War Pigs” while guitarist Kim Thayil, clad in a Smell The Magic L7 t-shirt, segues from a skronky freeform guitar intro to the song’s main riff. The bill also featured openers Monster Magnet and Swervedriver, so ears must have been ringing for days.
In addition to the moment in Soundgarden history that it captures, this video is also a portrait of the truly chaotic nature of a concert at The Trocadero in 1992. The first six or seven minutes are mildly unwatchable since the person with the video camera gets caught in a surging crowd, keeps moving to different corners of the venue, repositioning the camera, ducking it down to evade security (he acknowledges this in a bit of commentary at the very end), and moving again. As archival footage it is fascinating, but as a viewing experience your best bet is to feel free to skip ahead when the visual begins to get too seasick for your liking.
Somebody within earshot of the camera keeps comparing the bustling crowd to a train station, and it doesn’t take long to realize he’s talking about either people getting in position to leap from the stage, or getting out of the way. I didn’t do a tally of the number of stage-diving fans, but there have to be at minimum two dozen; folks who strike extended poses before launching themselves into the audience, folks who reach for Cornell to shake his hand or, in the case of one person, grab at his washboard abs (he’s shirtless two songs in).
As a frontperson, Cornell is a dynamic, formidable presence — handsome as all hell, wailing across octaves, leaping off the drum riser, headbanging — but between songs he’s somewhat aloof. He jokes about the early Mother’s Day start time, engages in some jockish basketball smack-talk, and tells a weird story about their last Troc gig with Voivod and Faith No More, where they threw meat from their deli tray at the crowd. He makes an observation about the various articles of clothing being tossed onstage from the mosh pit melee: “Throw flannels! T-shirts are cool but flannels are cooler.”
At the same time, Cornell ends the show on a poetic and sincere note: the last thing he says as the set-closing “Slaves & Bulldozers” rings out is “If you close your eyes and wish real hard you might get exactly what you want. Thank you, see you next time.”