The four members of Soundgarden revealed that their band has transformed into an extremely loud oldies act at Starlight Theatre on Sunday. Most of the more than 6,000 people on hand made it clear that they approved of the curious development.
Soundgarden was an unlikely candidate to become a respectable component of the rock music establishment when it formed 33 years ago in Seattle.
The group was initially lumped in with the grunge movement, but Soundgarden proved more substantial than peers like Alice in Chains and less uncomfortable with the trappings of success than Nirvana.
The stateliness of Sunday’s wholly satisfying show indicated that the 13-year hiatus that concluded in 2010 was a mixed blessing.
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Soundgarden may have missed an opportunity to exploit a potentially creative period, but its four members now seem content to revive the strongest material from their six albums and several EPs for nostalgic fans. The newest songs on the set list were released five years ago.
Versions of early material including the violent thrash attack of “All Your Lies” weren’t tame, but technical proficiency supplanted raw energy on the tumultuous song.
The frenetic original 1991 version of “Jesus Christ Pose” is a hard rock classic, but Sunday’s treatment of the composition served as a stunning display of virtuosity. Guitarist Kim Thayil deftly applied additional layers of industrial noise to the song.
The crisp sound reproduction — vastly superior to Soundgarden’s 2013 appearance in Kansas City — allowed fans to appreciate every nuance of the deep groove bassist Ben Shepherd and drummer Matt Cameron created during a faithful version of the 1994 hit “Spoonman.”
His three band mates are excellent musicians, but front man Chris Cornell is a bona fide rock star. His piercing tenor led the charge on the verdant psychedelia of “Black Hole Sun.”
Cornell’s voice, slender frame and charismatic theatrics often elicit comparisons to Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin. A few of the strongest songs on Sunday seemed like homages to the pioneering heavy metal band.
“Outshined,” for instance, resembled a menacing update of Led Zeppelin’s ferocious blues.
Soundgarden may be embracing their new roles as decorous elder statesmen, but the presence of the Dillinger Escape Plan on the bill indicates that Soundgarden still harbors affection for uncompromising rebels. The confrontational New Jersey quintet opened the show with an exhilaratingly abrasive blend of punk, metal and free jazz that sounded like the convulsive soundtrack to a nervous breakdown.
Soundgarden set list
Incessant Mace; Hunted Down; All Your Lies; Spoonman; Outshined; Black Hole Sun; Crooked Steps; My Wave; The Day I Tried to Live; Been Away Too Long; A Thousand Days Before; Burden in My Hand; Rusty Cage; Drawing Flies; Ugly Truth; Fell on Black Days; Jesus Christ Pose; Slaves & Bulldozers