Soundgarden at 1STBANK Center, 5/28/13
Soundgarden on stage at 1STBANK Center last night. Slide show: Soundgarden and fans at the 1STBANK Center
Five songs into its set last night at 1STBANK Center, with the stage bathed in emerald light and Chris Cornell appearing sans guitar for the first time in the set, Soundgarden performed "Outshined," one of its first radio hits. Cornell put his mic toward the crowd during the choruses, and the crowd vigorously carried the melody. At the end, Cornell complimented the crowd and flashed a knowing smile like he knew the show was off to a great start.
Upon taking the stage -- Matt Cameron first, followed by Kim Thayil, Cornell and Ben Shepherd -- the band immediately went into a crunchy and raw version of "Spoonman," and from the very first notes, Cornell sounded inexplicably great, as he would throughout the set. He and the band performed the songs with a notable zest, as though they had discovered a newfound love for the material, not like they had played the tunes countless times.
The dark, striking, serpentine riff of "Gun" unexpectedly followed "Spoonman," and in the short break toward the end, Cornell said, "Fuck it up!" and everyone in the band came together and then slithered urgently off in the mix of disorienting sounds. Sure, this is a rock-and-roll band, but this song made it clear that these guys are no strangers to exploring the possibilities of sound within the context of the music they do.
"By Crooked Steps," with its penetratingly observant lyrics and complex rhythmic structure that sounds almost like a pop song, was a strong reminder that the new Soundgarden songs are at least as good as the older ones. After "Rhinosaur," Cornell mentioned that the band's last show in Colorado, at Red Rocks, was a memorable one, and this one was, too.
After "Outshined," he talked about the altitude and how a lot of bands have oxygen containers near the stage. Soundgarden, he noted, accidentally got nitrous instead, and if the band fucked up, he said, it was because they were all high. If there were mistakes, the performance was strong enough that you didn't really notice or care.
Getting to see "Loud Love" live as well as "Gun," two of the darkest songs the band has written, was like a gift. On its last trip to Denver, the band played "Ugly Truth," "Big Dumb Sex" and "Nothing to Say," so hearing some different older songs performed was a nice touch. "Burden In My Hand" may be the closest a group like Soundgarden has ever come to a pop ballad, but in Cornell's hands, it's anything but; his words never really lack for content or true poetic sensibility.
"Blind Dogs" was another surprise entry in the set. The song appeared on the soundtrack of The Basketball Diaries, and Cornell namechecked the late, great, Jim Carroll in the obvious connection to the film for those familiar with Carroll's literary and musical work. The set ended with a beautifully gnarled take on "Rusty Cage" with Cornell lifting his guitar high in the air and lurching down along with the rest of the band to hit the first chord of that brutally syncopated ending.
By that point, you really couldn't help but be impressed with everyone in the band, particularly Cameron's timekeeping, pulling the disparate, wild elements back together while doing backing vocals. Shepherd gave the songs a subtle but strong fluidity and grace while being incredibly animated and striking poses that embodied the mood of the songs in the moment.
Cornell, meanwhile, displayed good humor and undeniable passion for these songs which came through in the wildness of spirit in his vocals. Thayil sounded like he was playing at least two different guitar parts at once, and his playing took the sound of the band into uncharted and uncontrollable territory while giving the sound its incredible heaviness without crossing over into the cartoonish.
Soundgarden didn't wait very long before coming back to the stage to give us a couple more songs beginning with "My Wave." But there was a surprise guest that Cornell said was a super fan named Jeff (Geoff?) who would be playing along. That guy kept up his end of the guitar work, and his playing gave the whole thing a different kind of edge that sounded great alongside Thayil's own masterful playing. When the song ended, Cornell hugged him and Shepherd gave him knuckles.
And this wasn't just an offhand gesture on the part of either. That kind of sincerity is something that has long set this band apart. The show ended with one of the only songs that could end it, "Slaves & Bulldozers," from Badmotorfinger. Live, the stretched out version of the song had a noteworthy edge.
At the end of the set, Shepherd threw his bass to the back and left stage. Cameron then got up and waved to the crowd, and he was followed by Cornell, who couldn't have been smiling more broadly as he raised both fists in the air in triumph. Thayil, meanwhile, stood alone modulating feedback for a raw, textured sound he kept going for a few minutes before he too left the stage holding a bottle of beer, obviously local, which foamed over, as he waved goodnight.
1STBANK Center - 5/28/13
03. By Crooked Steps
06. Worse Dreams
07. The Day I Tried to Live
08. Non-State Actor
09. Loud Love
10. Eyelid's Mouth
11. Head Down
12. Burden In My Hand
13. Never The Machine Forever
14. Blind Dogs
16. Fell On Black Days
17. Blow Up the Outside World
18. Rusty Cage
19. My Wave
20. Slaves & Bulldozers
Personal Bias: Soundgarden may be my favorite band out of what was called "grunge."
Random Detail: The play of lights on the back wall was often as interesting as what the lights and projections were doing on and behind the stage.
By the Way: If you're going to have a smoke and you're not on stage, go outside. Thanks.
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