July 12, 2011
The Patriot Center
Fairfax, VA USA
Review by Craig Hunter Ross
Photos by Craig Hunter Ross
The hastily crafted signs at the entrances to each seating section of the Patriot Center in Fairfax , Virginia stated "Please refrain from moshing and body surfing." General Admission on the floor would normally dictate such behavior, but the crowd in attendance on this evening was distinctively a bit more seasoned in their concert going experience, satisfied to just play the air drums and sway along to the music.
Now settled into their first tour in over 14 years, grunge pioneers Soundgarden (supported by The Mars Volta), would soon be providing over 2 hours of music spanning their vast catalog to an adoring fan base that never sat down, staying on their feet the entire evening.
With a larger than life logo from the cover of their 1991 release Badmotorfinger towering behind them, the band appropriately opened their set by tearing into "Searching with My Good Eye Closed" and continuing right into the more mainstream favorite "Spoonman".
With the ever stoic Kim Thayil on guitar to his right, and the more raucous Ben Shepherd thundering on bass to his left, Chris Cornell served as the perfect pendulum amidst the ebb and flow between the melancholy melodies and raw power that is the music of Soundgarden. And don't forget Matt Cameron. His drumming efforts, while crisp and precision-like, were spot on through a plethora of unorthodox time signatures, as he maintained well-placed freestyle fills without overdoing it.
Frontman Cornell let the crowd know early on, "We could play a lot of newer stuff, but we can do that next time around. Tonight is a lot about what YOU want to hear." Based on the crowd reaction throughout the evening, Soundgarden did exactly that.
Accompanied by perfectly choreographed lighting schemes and backdrop images, songs like "Let Me Drown", "Jesus Christ Pose", "Blow Up the Outside World" and "Rusty Cage" became their own individual multimedia events. The blend of kaleidoscopic imagery and often enigmatic lyrics made for an incredible musical experience, breathing excitement and interest into some of the possibly lesser known arrangements.
Cornell's voice was exceptionally strong, with no eminent loss of vocal strength at any point during the show. Much of that was due in part to his recent sold-out solo tour. In fact, as the evening wore on, the former Audioslave front man seemed to be gaining vocal power as he fed off the crowd's energy. That being said, it was fairly evident there was quite a bit of reliance on reverb and well placed delay, on his vocals. By the time Soundgarden reached "Black Hole Sun" in the set (about 16 songs into the show), the drop off was there, but who cared.
Arguably Soundgarden's most recognizable and popular song, "Black Hole Sun" seemed to be a bit off this evening. The tempo of the psychedelic, almost dirge like song Cornell composed in 15 minutes, seemed awkwardly slow this particular evening. Maybe it was the placement of the song in the set. It's quite possible there was some slight tweaking done to the song to give it a more surreal texture, especially where the vocals were concerned. Regardless, it was a very minor glitch in this otherwise brilliant night of music. Another half dozen songs would follow, sending a very appreciative crowd home smiling and wanting more.
As a whole, this was the Soundgarden people remembered; the one that successfully courted mainstream metal fans in the '90s with great finesse. Without a doubt, this well-rounded show left fans wondering what other gems this band could have mined, as a solid unit, had internal strife not forced Cornell's hand out of the group into another. If this performance is indeed an indication of things to come, you won't be seeing any more lengthy sabbaticals in this group's future. They've all grown up.