Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Firmly Replanted, Soundgarden Flourishes at the Riv -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Riviera Theatre, Chicago
January 29, 2013

Soundgarden doesn't mess around.

Onstage, they do not showboat. They do not pander, pose (except as Jesus Christ, per the song), pontificate or politick. They do not prance, dance, climb atop speaker cabinets nor lead audience sing-a-longs. They do not gesticulate wildly or pad their sets with lengthy guitar and drum solos.

What they do, as an action verb but also high praise, is rock.

And unlike some rock ’n roll reunions, which seem more about the money than the music—and/or include just a fraction of the original band—based on Soundgarden’s fantastic show at the Riv on Tuesday (the first of 2 nights), which came 18 months after a tremendous performance at the UIC Pavilion, the four-man Seattle band’s second act appears to be rock solid.

Though their late 2012 album King Animal didn’t instantly seem on par with ’90s classics like Superunknown and Down on the Upside, I am continuing to appreciate it more and more, aided by the performance of five of its songs, which if not all setlist highlights, were neither glaring drags.

Obviously, every band will have some songs that are better than others—though I now realize I should have better refreshed myself with Soundgarden’s full catalog, as Tuesday’s setlist included songs from 7 albums, including deeper cuts from Superunknown and Badmotorfinger—but even the songs I didn’t recognize, and might not consider among their very best, still sounded great.

This goes back to where I started, as you can tell just by watching guitarist Kim Thayil on stage that the south suburban Chicago native is there to play loud, sonically distinctive music, not be a celebrity, cad or caricature. Likewise, bassist Ben Shepard and drummer Matt Cameron—who is also now a member of Pearl Jam—form a no-nonsense rhythm section commanding attention only for the phenomenal sounds they emit.

And while remaining one of the most vocally gifted singers the rock genre has ever produced, Chris Cornell—who I’ve dubbed “The Prince of Wails”—was eminently professional and gracious to the sold out crowd in a venue considerably smaller than those the band once played.

But the Riv fit Soundgarden well, and vice-versa, as the already peeling paint was freshly pulverized by thunderous versions of “Jesus Christ Pose,” “Blow Up the Outside World,” “Superunknown,” “Spoonman,” “Outshined,” “Rusty Cage” and “By Crooked Steps” (one of the best of the new songs).

With Cornell still in great voice, more graceful tunes such as “Fell on Black Days” and “Black Hole Sun” also sounded terrific. (A video clip of the former is at bottom)

Despite the setlist including new songs to which I haven’t fully acclimated and some older songs I didn’t recognize, the only tune I would have really liked to hear but didn’t was “Pretty Noose.” But not only was that played at the Pavilion show in July 2011, but on this tour of smaller venues, Soundgarden—akin to their friends in Pearl Jam—is mixing up their setlists nightly, something I strongly applaud.

So other than latecomers constantly congregating in the balcony aisle in front of me—both a nuisance and fire hazard—Soundgarden’s show left me with nothing to complain about. For awhile I thought perhaps it was a smidgen less glorious than the Pavilion gig, but even if so, it was a fantastically executed, well-paced concert that didn’t include a note I didn’t like over 140 minutes (including a feedback frenzy at the end).

At this point, Soundgarden’s band members are straddling 50. Yet not only are they sounding as good as ever—though the only pre-reunion show I saw was in 1996—but during the years they were disbanded (1997-2010), no better rock band has emerged (with apologies to three I really like: System of a Down, Arcade Fire and The Killers).

So while I won’t be at Wednesday’s show, Tuesday’s did exactly what a great concert should: it made me relish hearing (while screaming along to) the songs I know and love, it made me want to listen more intently to the band’s new album and its old ones and it made me look forward to the next time I get to see Soundgarden.

Perhaps best of all, at the end of many songs and the concert in full, it made me go, “Wow, that was great!”

And if there’s a band comprised of twentysomethings who can do likewise, I am unaware of them. All the more reason I can only hope that—even if they never return to reigning as one of the world’s biggest bands—Soundgarden continues to grow.

For a sense of how good Soundgarden sounded at the Riviera, here's a clip of “Fell On Black Days” posted on YouTube by "theairwaytostation":


Anonymous said...

Rivera is a horrible venue! Worst rock concert of my life. It's a shame, I was really looking forward to another great Soundgarden show, but because they WAY over sold tickets for this show it was a bad experience for many!

Frances said...

Nice to know that a 90s band like Soundgarden has graced the Riv! Wish I was there.