Aging gracefully is not the same as aging quietly. As demonstrated last night at the Paramount, the members of Soundgarden have transitioned into their dad-rock years with most of the menace and musk of their decades-past heyday intact. From start to finish of the two-hour, sold-out homecoming show, the band was hyper-focused, intently paced, no frills, coolly efficient. The audience was audibly and visibly astonished. Rightly so: This was a band defying the rules of entropy, perhaps more distilled and potent at this advanced state than ever before.
(I say that having never seen Soundgarden live before last night/someone who owned Louder than Love on cassette in high school.)
Kim Thayil stunned on guitar. Physically, he's the opposite of the stereotypical shreddaholic showboat: All night he stood head-down and arms slack, like he was reading a book while waiting for the bus. And yet the sounds that came from his side of the stage were maniacal—intricate filigree hemming in roaring, aggressive leads. He exploded the intro to "Jesus Christ Pose" and the bridge of "Spoonman," piloting full-band jams with equal parts blunt-force wallop and proggy detail.
Opposite him, bassist Ben Shepherd wore a black sport coat, Lemmy-like facial hair and thousand-yard stare, vacant and eerie. He provided the low-end, downtuned grind of Soundgarden's early songs ("Gun," "The Day I Tried to Live")—a visceral magnetism absent from much of their new material. Some of those newer songs (like the thematically apropos "Been Gone too Long") were superb, however, if less forbidding.
Any rock band with Matt Cameron on drums wins.
And Chris Cornell had all the anticipated vocal range and charisma, his voice veering around octaves like a free-spinning radio dial. Surprisingly, he also had a degree of reserve and diligence, saying little between songs. He introduced Cameron's kid on guitar for a song and Mike McCready on "Tighter and Tighter." McCready, thrashing and strutting with his guitar, was a hammy, Pearl Jammy counterpoint to Soundgarden's narrow-eyed diffidence.
Soundgarden plays again tonight, their second and final sold-out Paramount show on the King Animal tour (which Hannah Levin will review tomorrow). It promises to be another impressive performance. Right now they're showing their age in the most exciting way possible.
Set list via Ernest Jasmine of the Tacoma Weekly
Soundgarden, Paramount Theatre Feb. 7, 2013
Flower, Nothing to Say, Outshined, Jesus Christ Pose, Spoonman, Hands All Over, Gun, By Crooked Steps, Rhinosaur, Taree, My Wave, The Day I Tried to Live, Been Away So Long, Worse Dreams, Hunted Down, Drawing Flies, Eyelid’s Mouth, Blow Up the Outside World, Fell on Black Days, Live to Rise, Tighter and Tighter (with Mike McCready), Non-State Actor, Ty Cobb, Rowing
Encore: Rusty Cage, Beyond the Wheel
Photo by Nate Watters