Photo credit: Rolling Stone Magazine, August 1995
Edited by Brett Buchanan
Next weekend the Reading festival will welcome Metallica, but 20 years ago a slice of Seattle and alternative rock came to Reading to raise the spirits of fans still grieving over the loss of Kurt Cobain
If Kurt Cobain’s death really did spell the end for Grunge, then the Reading Festival in England, 16 months after his 1994 suicide, was a reanimation of sorts.
The August bank holiday festival, which dates back to 1971, had already had its fair share of artists from Seattle and alternative music from across the pond. Nirvana had performed at Reading in 1991 and then infamously headlined the following year. The Sunday slots in 1992 were filled with a mostly Grunge alternative collective mass, with Screaming Trees, Mudhoney and the Melvins joining Nirvana.
Pennywise opened the main stage at Reading 1995 with a rousing version of “Territorial Pissings.” This led to a stage invasion rarely seen at a festival before or since.
The ever popular Blind Melon followed with a ten song set and a lively Shannon Hoon, on what was proving to be a particularly windy day. This show would be the band’s final with Hoon in England; with Hoon tragically dying 8 weeks later from a drug overdose in New Orleans.
White Zombie, Babes In Toyland, Buffalo Tom and Pavement also played, but the main acts that would make Reading 95 so memorable were yet to play.
Mudhoney were back at the festival promoting their new record My Brother the Cow, but it was the older material that got the greatest reactions. “Fuzzgun 91,” which had not been played for 4 years, and “Touch Me I’m Sick” were welcomed enthusiastically. They finished the set with The Dicks classic, “Hate the Police.”
The last time Soundgarden were in the UK, the news had filtered through that Kurt Cobain was dead, and yet the foursome were due to play at the festival a year before. However, singer Chris Cornell was struck down by polyps of the vocal chords and the band had to pull out at the 11th hour. Playing in 1995 was a major moment for Soundgarden, and the crowd respected the fact that they had returned as soon as they could to the festival to make up for the disappointment a year prior.
Soundgarden kicked off their set with “Searching with My Good Eye Closed.” 10 of the 18 songs were from Superunknown, and the 80 minute set led to nonstop crowd surfing. The set included a cover of The Doors’ classic “Waiting for the Sun,” and just before “Head Down,” Cornell admitted that this was his favorite Soundgarden song. The set ended spectacularly with The Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” The long dragging bass of Ben Shepherd, the slow drums of Matt Cameron, and the snarling guitars of Cornell and Kim Thayil served during a dusty, windy, and cloudy early evening ended their set as if the stage was literally eating them up.
After a delayed start, Neil Young was the final act of the night. What made Young’s appearance so special was that his backing band was none other than Pearl Jam. The two forces of music had gotten together that year to collaborate on the fantastic record Mirrorball.
They opened up to a wall of flashes from the photographers eager to get as many pictures as they could of this historic moment. The first song was “Big Green Country” followed by “Song X.” With the crowd in a frenzy, as members of Pearl Jam had not toured in the UK since 1993, the atmosphere was electric. Most of the material came from Mirrorball, but Young had no problems diving into his older tunes. “The Needle and the Damage Done” seemed like a poignant tribute to Cobain, and “After the Goldrush” was played for an extended amount of time. The set finished with “Rockin’ in the Free World,” a song that Pearl Jam themselves would adopt in many concerts also as their show closer.
Reading 95 was indeed the last gasp of the Grunge era when the bands were still recognized in their prime of their careers, and it was definitely a fitting tribute to Kurt Cobain.