With their first visit to Portland in 16 years, that band whose home is just a couple hours north on I-5, Soundgarden rocked the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall February 6. The band was in prime form, powering their way through a two and a half hour 26-song set. The evening showcased plenty of favorites and eleven of thirteen tracks from their newest release, King Animal.
Not many bands can claim 20-plus years of longevity, let alone continued success, but Soundgarden assaulted fans with the same thunderous bass-bottom power provided by bassist Ben Sheppard and drummer Matt Cameron, along with the frantic psychedelic wah-wah ladened leads of guitarist Kim Thayil soaring over the crunchiest rhythms. All of this was spearheaded by the charismatic, commanding wail of vocalist Chris Cornell. With his guttural grows and vengeful screams, rarely has a singer gracefully harnessed the anguished, rage-filled cry of rock vocals. Cornell also displayed a balanced versatility with his forlorn, insightful contemplations, helping to further define the band’s sound.
With so much music to choose from, the band evenly covered songs from Bad Motorfinger, Superunknown, and Down on the Upside, with a lone tune from Louder Than Love, Big Dumb Sex.
The evening started appropriately with Been Away Too Long, bringing the sold-out crowd immediately to their feet and remained standing throughout the show. The first six songs were played non-stop, alternating between past hits My Wave, Jesus Christ Pose, Outshined and Spoonman, and new material, Non-State Actor and Worse Dreams. The stage crew kept busy, lighting the stage with strobes, laser lights, and a steady stream of video projections, most notably the falling snow amidst stark winter bleakness that played during songs from King Animal.
The band sounded fresh, playing classic gems Room a 1000 Years Wide, Blowup the Outside World, and Fell On Black Days. The show wouldn’t have been complete without the fist-pumping highlight of Ty Cobb. The song has the same aggressiveness as the baseball legend who was known for his surly temperament. Cornell paced the stage, mic stand held high, screaming out the chorus with the crowd “Hard headed *@#$ you all”. It was tough to resist his sentiment.
The concert concluded with a four song encore; Rusted Cage, Burn In My Mind, A 1000 Days Before, and Slaves & Bulldozers, with Guitarist Thayil and bassist Sheppard summoning the distorted monolith of feedback after propping their instruments against their amps and ending the last five minutes of their show. It was a fitting way to end an evening, and were true to the self-proclaimed statement printed on their concert t-shirts, “LOUDER THAN *@#$”.