REVIEW: Soundgarden at Red Rocks, July 18

Chris Cornell of Soundgarden
Photo by David Accomazzo

A tumultuous roaring sound of fans whistling, screaming and clapping their hands filled Red Rocks Amphitheatre Monday night for a sold out Soundgarden show. A couple of songs into their almost two-hour-long set, Chris Cornell, the frontman of the legendary grunge-metal band, addressed the crowd with a statement.

“We’re back!” Cornell said.

Soundgarden, which has been broken up since 1997, stopped in Morrison as part of their 29-day reunion tour. To a seasoned listener or devoted fan the band sounded as though they hadn’t missed a single practice in those 13 years.

Drummer Matt Cameron’s bombastic yet calculated rhythms were well complimented by bassist Ben Shepherd’s hard-hitting low end. Guitarists Kim Thayil and Cornell swept into ripping dual solos and rocking melodic riffs throughout the show, exhibiting their distinct playing styles. Cornell, who is well known for his wide vocal range, hit every note as well as if not better than his performances over a decade ago.

Opening the show was The Mars Volta, the Grammy award-winning group from El Paso, Texas. They however, did not look like The Mars Volta. Having earned interest not only through their music, but also through their unique look and wild stage presence, The Mars Volta seemed to have pared down their eccentric looks with shorter haircuts and mostly plain black clothing. Vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala however, remained as passionate as ever with his microphone-spinning, hip-shaking stage moves.

Aside from their closer “Goliath” from 2008’s The Bedlam in Goliath, The Mars Volta played only unreleased material from their next (sixth) record. Their six-song set featured Bixler-Zavala’s trademark high-pitched melodies atop guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s jazzy, progressive playing style.

The band’s sound was not as crisp as one would expect from a Red Rocks show. At times the instruments were difficult to differentiate from one another, and Bixler-Zavala’s vocals hard to decipher. Nevertheless, the crowd cheered and applauded throughout their set, if only to appease the band while awaiting the real reason everyone was there.

As the lights dimmed upon the absolutely packed amphitheater, a deafening mixture of cheers and applause broke the lull between the two bands’ sets. Opening with “Searching With My Good Eye Closed,” a smooth melodic song with psychedelic tendencies, Soundgarden’s playing was nearly drowned out by the volume of the crowd. The band then delved into “Spoonman,” a groove-filled hard rock song with a call-and-response chorus before pausing briefly to thank the audience and make their aforementioned statement of reunion.

The band rifled off several other crowd pleasers during the first half of their set ranging from the aggravated metal riffs of songs like “Jesus Christ Pose” to the softer, more melodic grunge ballads “The Day I Tried To Live,” and “Fell On Black Days.”

Playing material from all of their albums, Soundgarden showcased a keen ability to write catchy guitar licks and vocal hooks, with much of the audience singing along to the choruses throughout the night.

The band played the guitar-oriented “Big Dumb Sex” before Cornell put his instrument down to focus all his power on belting out the vocals to their 1991 single, “Outshined.”

The band continued to play in the vein of their more popular radio singles with “Pretty Noose,” “Rusty Cage,” and the band’s most well-known song, “Black Hole Sun.”

Cornell addressed the audience throughout the show with a wide variety of topics such as the beauty of the venue, how good it felt to be playing in Soundgarden again, and inquiring how much marijuana the crowd could smoke.

Finishing the set proper with songs like, “Burden In My Hand,” “4th of July” and “Superunknown,” the band took a short break before coming back on stage to play a four song encore featuring lesser known tracks like “Face Pollution” and the lyrically depressing, yet vocally astounding, “Mailman.”

Finally the band played their oft-used set closer, “Slaves & Bulldozers.” Visibly excited to be playing the song, Soundgarden made their final performance of the night one to remember with Cornell singing part of Led Zeppelin’s “In My Time of Dying.” He and Cameron left the stage as Thayil and Shepherd thrashed their instruments against their amplifiers for nearly five minutes producing feedback that drowned out the final cheers of the crowd.

As fans eagerly await the band’s highly speculated upon new album, they will undoubtedly remember this as a show for the ages; one that cemented Soundgarden as a band that will not give up without a fight; a band that will not go silently into that good night.

As if there was really ever any doubt.

Slideshow by David Accomazzo

Correction: A previous version of this review misidentified two songs played by Soundgarden. Boulder Weekly regrets the error.