On a crisp overcast Tuesday night at the 1stBank Center in Broomfield, ’90s rock legends Soundgarden arrived on scene to deliver the riff. While my editor and I were busy procuring a beer, at approximately 8:30 p.m. the opening chords of “Spoonman” reverberated throughout the arena. The off-kilter, yet accessible feel of the single filled the hall as many ran to find their seats while yelling they couldn’t believe this was happening. (Was the $8 beer worth it to see people truly lose their shit? You are goddamn right.)
Anyways, following “Spoonman,” Soundgarden went deep into the catalog and delivered the punk metal stomp of “Gun.” Although this tour is ostensibly in support of King Animal, Soundgarden’s first album in more than 16 years, it was obvious that the band didn’t necessarily have an agenda to only play songs from the album. Off of the brilliantly titled King Animal the next song was “By Crooked Steps” which the band flawlessly executed, trading syncopated guitar and bass licks around a hook-laden vocal melody. Directly following that, Soundgarden went back to the 1996 album Down on the Upside and excavated the lesser-known, yet catchy “Rhinosaur.”
Cornell thanked “Denver” more than once — Broomfield just can’t get any love, it seems. Plodding into the next cut “Outshined,” guitarist Kim Thayil’s pentatonic Tony Iommi worship filled the stadium with monolith-sized riffs. The guitar came roaring out the gate and surely a tan Chris Cornell was “looking Californian” on this number indeed.
Besides Cornell’s courageous wail, Soundgarden’s greatest weapon is Matt Cameron’s jazzy unhinged style of rock ’n’ roll drumming. His backing beats set the foundation for the slithering heaviness of Thayil, the heroic tenor of Cornell, and the thunderous low end of Ben Shepherd. The view of the trenches (the floor) looked promising as the people on the floor banged their heads and lost sense of balance and time to visceral heaviness of “Outshined.” Shit was rocking, to be quite frank. At this point, the crowd needed a breather, and band brought the dynamic down with “Worse Dreams.” The meandering riffs and baritone croons calmed the crowd only to explode into the arena rock ready chorus of “I get up / from a bad dream / When it’s gone / worse dreams are born.” During the bridge Kim Thayil’s pyrotechnic wah-shred soloing came unhinged and surely blew out a more than a few people’s eardrums in the process.
Jumping back to their landmark album Superunknown, Soundgarden busted out “Day I Tried to Live.” Showing off the full range of his heroic tenor, Cornell went from wispy baritone to all out throat shredding yelling on the chorus. Although the vocal melody was altered to suit his voice of today rather than the one of 1994, Cornell still managed to stir the mass of unwashed heathens into frenzy. At this point, Soundgarden veered off nostalgia lane and landed firmly in present as they ripped into “Non-State Actor,” the second track of King Animal. At this point, the band was on fire enough to hop into the time machine and tie on the 1989 bender “Loud Love.” The band wasn’t simply content to run through the motions and ape their way thru the song. Cornell strutted the stage like a golden ’70s rock god born too late.
Being experienced travelers of time and space, the band tuned down and dropped out of the eighties and returned to the present with “Eyelid’s Mouth.” The funny thing is that in the wave of shitty Alice in Chains and Nirvana imitators, nobody stopped or tried to emulate Soundgarden. Perhaps it is because there is just no point in trying, or because it just isn’t that easy. Soundgarden took no shortcuts in their approach to rock ’n’ roll from 1988 to 1997, so why start now?
Soundgarden once again dug deep into their back catalog and whipped out the Ben Shepherd penned “Head Down.” It was pretty obvious that many people in the crowd didn’t know this song and probably were waiting to turn their camera phone for a rendition of “Black Hole Sun.” (It didn’t happen.) The crowd kept its cool, until Shepherd walked himself behind the backline of amplifiers emerging beside Cameron on the drum riser. Within seconds, the two launched into a tribal double drum solo. Thayil and Cornell held down the guitars while the rhythm section blasted off into the unknown. Cornell then brought the crowd back to the fold with opening chords of “Burden in my Hand” and words of “Follow me into desert as thirsty as you are / crack a smile and cover your mouth and drown in alcohol.” Many were drunk and yelling out the words to the 1996 radio standard and probably epitomizing what the man was singing about.
Radio-ready material aside, Soundgarden then ripped into “Never the Machine Forever” off of the underappreciated-yet-super-rad 1996 album Down on the Upside. Cameron rode the wave of syncopation to provide a Steve Gadd-esque groove that was ahead of the beat, but never too far behind Thayil’s tasty guitar licks. The song obviously was a challenge for the band to play and for the crowd to follow. Yet this particular number showed how Soundgarden emphasized composition over concerns of accessibility while maintaining pop elements regardless. Speaking of pop — the band then went on to play “Blow up the Outside World” — perhaps their greatest pop achievement besides “Black Hole Sun.” With its message of nihilism bathed in a soothing Beatles-esque melody, “Blow up the Outside World” brought the crowd into full on karaoke mode while a sea of camera phones dotted the landscape. It is funny that in today’s day and age the lighter has been ubiquitously replaced with the camera phone. The soothing cellular glare filled the 1stBank Center. Surely, there will be some poor footage on Youtube?
Soundgarden’s last song of the set, “Rusty Cage,” came from a time when phones were the size of dinosaurs. Kicking it up a notch, the band was in fine form on the tune and didn’t lose a single step along the way. As the last riffs imploded the band left the stage as “Rusty Cage” closed out the regular set. Obviously, there was going to be an encore from a show designated “An Evening with Soundgarden.” The band re-emerged after a significant applause from crowd. In tow with the band, was a fellow named Jeff, who the band brought up to the stage to play “My Wave” with them. Dreams fulfilled for Jeff and mine denied, the band rocked hard with their guest and brought the evening to close with the dinosaur stomp of “Slaves & Bulldozers.” Long after the rest of the band left the stage, Kim Thayil remained and conducted a feedback seminar with his guitar. Suddenly it was over, and Kim Thayil was seen leaving the stage chuggin’ a beer. Soundgarden happened.
3) By Crooked Steps
6) Worse Dreams
7) Day I Tried to Live
8) Non-State Actor
9) Loud Love
10 Eyelid’s Mouth
11) Head Down
12) Burden in my Hand
13) Never The Machine Forever
14) Blind Dogs
16) Fell on Black Days
17) Blow Up The outside World
18) Rusty Cage
19) My Wave (ft. Jeff)
20) Slaves & Bulldozers
Photos by Dane Cronin