Some shows are just better than others.
For as long as I had been a fan of the "grunge" movement, I was never really in love with Soundgarden as much as I was with Nirvana and Alice in Chains. Chris Cornell's voice was always too much for me to handle...the songs themselves were fine, but something about Cornell's throaty delivery threw me off.
When I started delving into all things grunge, including every Nirvana/Kurt Cobain book I could consume and albums by Screaming Trees, Mudhoney, Melvins, and other flanneled Pacific Northwest bands, my appreciation for Soundgarden grew.
Before long, that appreciation turned to sadness, assuming I would never see Soundgarden live, since the band had long since broken up and Cornell was spinning his wheels in Audioslave (to say nothing of his ill-advised foray into dance-pop with Timbaland).
Well, since the band's 2009 reformation, I (and millions of other grunge fans) had been hotly anticipating a full-on reunion tour, however unlikely it seemed. When they announced that tour a few months ago, that anticipation turned into feverish excitement, culminating in the band's mammoth performance last Friday night at the Forum in Inglewood.
Simply put, this show was one of the best I have EVER seen. I've probably been to more than a hundred concerts in my life, but Soundgarden's rousing, powerful, dynamic show at the Forum is easily within the 5 best I've ever seen.
Kicking off the night was The Mars Volta, a band decidedly different now than they have been for most of their career. Playing mostly new tunes, they were much more low-key than usual. The new songs have *gasp* structure to them, a striking departure from the spastic freakouts fans have come to expect from the group, led by the hyphenated Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala. A strobe-heavy light show spazzed out behind the band as they blazed through their 45-minute set with a combination of mesmerizing melodies, precise percussion and passionate delivery by Rodriguez-Lopez and Bixler-Zavala. If anything, the Mars Volta's new music will help them further cement their place as one of rock's most challenging and innovative bands around.
After a short break, it was time for a nostalgic trip back to the early 1990s. Taking the stage to the intro of Searching with My Good Eye Closed, Soundgarden demonstrated that they're not just here for a cash-grab reunion tour. Jesus Christ Pose was particularly vicious:
There was an immense, powerful energy delivered by Cornell, Kim Thayil, Matt Cameron and Ben Shepherd that lasted throughout their sprawling, 25-song set.
Anybody ever remotely interested in any Soundgarden song had to be satisfied through the course of the night. They played EVERYTHING any fan could want. All the hits that helped define 1990s modern rock radio were present and accounted for, as well as Ultramega OK and Louder than Love songs like Flower, Gun, Ugly Truth, Beyond the Wheel, Loud Love, and Big Dumb Sex. The band pulled songs from all throughout their career, and they all sounded flawless.
Speaking of being flawless, Chris Cornell has some seriously powerful pipes. He's 47 years old, but his soaring trademark voice never tired throughout the evening. On songs like Jesus Christ Pose and Black Rain, in particular, he had the same fury and thunder in his voice that he probably had as a twenty-something up in Seattle.
Between songs, Cornell was candid and funny; he thanked us all for showing up after all these years, and told us to say thanks to our parents or older siblings for turning us on to the band. He also remarked that they did have new songs they could have played, but "it's been so long, we figured we might as well play all the older stuff" instead.
Since this show was in Los Angeles, I almost expected some kind of special guest treatment. And, much to the delight of the screaming grunge fanatics in the crowd, that happened on the song Superunknown, when Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready showed up. He shredded through a solo for the song, creating a mini-grunge supergroup onstage that was as badass as it was sonically pleasing. Check out my video of that memorable moment:
As if that moment wasn't cool enough, apparently Dave Grohl was rocking out IN THE PIT with the fans for a majority of the set. Here's a video of him losing his shit during Fell On Black Days. Sadly, I wasn't on that side of the venue, as I was over on Thayil's side, so I will have to live vicariously through the excitement of the fans in Dave's area. The image of Grohl bouncing around in a mosh pit at a Soundgarden show sounds like the stuff of legend...which it is, considering it's Dave Fuckin' Grohl.
Soundgarden saved its heaviest, most intense song, Slaves & Bulldozers, for the very end of the evening. Despite the fact that he'd been screaming for two hours at that point, Cornell drove the set home with such vocal energy that it was impressive he hadn't totally shredded his vocal chords yet. The dude can sing.
It can't be overstated just how impressive the band was at this show. For nearly two hours and fifteen minutes, Soundgarden sounded as vibrant and crisp as they must have been in the early 1990s. Thayil's precise guitar work, always a highlight of Soundgarden's music, was on full display all night long. Cameron pounded the skins like a man on a mission, and Shepherd was similarly pumped up. It was just remarkable.
Here's hoping a new Soundgarden studio album, supposedly in the works, rocks just as hard as it should. If the Forum show was any indication, Soundgarden is indeed back, fresh and rested after a long time off. There's no rust, no fatigue, no sober realization of the fact that they are dudes in their mid-forties playing aggressive "grunge" music.
Their return honestly couldn't have come at a better time, and hopefully they make more noise sooner rather than later.
Soundgarden's Set List at the Forum on 7/22/11:
Searching With My Good Eye Closed
Jesus Christ Pose
Room a Thousand Years Wide
Blow Up the Outside World
Big Dumb Sex
Fell on Black Days
The Day I Tried to Live
Burden in My Hand
Black Hole Sun
Superunknown(with Mike McCready)
4th of July
Beyond the Wheel
Slaves & Bulldozers
Below, enjoy some photos from the show, courtesy of my outdated and slightly broken Canon Powershot.