Album Reviews - Reviews

Soundgarden @ 02, Dublin


Three years and one surprisingly decent album into one of the lesser ill-advised “iconic” reunions of recent times, the return of Seattle four-piece Soundgarden has been met with a largely positive response from critics and fans alike. Where many legendary, genre-defining acts have faltered in the disparate gleam of contemporary life – where every action made, word said and note played is scrutinised no end by the hyper-mythologising masses – the Chris Cornell-fronted band have fared admirably. The question remains: how will their long-awaited return to Irish shores play out on the ninth date of a heady European tour?

Following a crowd-winning performance from Sweden’s Graveyard – masterfully evoking everyone from Black Crowes and Mark Lanegan to The Sword and Howlin’ Wolf – Soundgarden emerge unhurried just after 8.30pm. With Cornell striding the stage a figure of health and contentment, the band start straight into the quarter-century old, Sabbath-like ‘Incessant Mace’ – a song older than much of tonight’s expectedly flannel-clad crowd. Guitarist Kim Thayil, stage right, wails a typically wah-drenched solo and Cornell brays, seemingly full of import and intent: “It’s not too late”. Continuing the nostalgic trend, the band’s debut single (and a bona fide grunge blueprint to boot) ‘Hunted Down’ follows, bassist Ben Sheperd – bearing an uncanny resemblance to one Father Fintan Stack – aims his instrument like a rifle at the crowd as the band delve into an urgent rendition of the first song on Sub Pop’s “hold” music tape.

One of the band’s more frenetic tracks, the punk rock sprawl of ‘Ty Cobb’ ups the ante, the crowd joining Cornell to shout “Hard headed, fuck you all!” A mini-moshpit breaks out, drummer Matt Cameron exhibits his seemingly boundless prowess in the song’s rhythmic shifts and the song abruptly ends to a huge response. “I’m not kissing your ass guys: we love this city,” Cornell says. “We’re going to move here and you’re all going to be like, ‘Soundgarden are playing again tonight? Not again!” The chugging grunge spree of ‘Flower’ from the band’s 1989 debut album Ultramega OK follows before ‘Outshined’ – easily one of the band’s heavier songs – follows. The crowd erupt, the chorus destroys and with his ad-libbed, octave-defying screams in its bridge, Cornell confirms that, at 49 years old, he still very much has the voice.

A one-two of highlights from the band’s 1994 breakthrough album Superunknown, ‘Spoonman’ and ‘My Wave’ – “a song about being territorial, going into other people’s countries etc.” – sees the crowd grow into fully-integrated, flailing mass of fandom before ‘Been Away Too Long’ – the first track played taken from last years’ King Animal – proves an early peak, Cornell’s voice reaching notes and tones unheard on the record. The 7/4 groove of  ‘The Day I Tried To Live’ – giving way to an explosive, fist-clenched chorus like few others in the band’s back catalogue – makes for an outright highlight, Kim Thayil totally absorbed, Cameron manning the fort magnificently and Sheperd prowling the stage, smitten by the song’s vengeful sentiment. Another track from Superunknown, the monstrously low ‘Mailman’ delivers before the swaying doom of ‘Limo Wreck’ gets an airing from the first time since 1994. “Stunning” does not do it justice.

With the rhythm section walking off for a brief repose, Thayil and Cornell play a dual guitar solo that reveals how far the latter has come on, particularly in the shadow of such an imposing figure as the genre-defining Thayil. Sheperd reappears sat on top of his amp, Cameron assumes his position and the band kick into ‘Ugly Truth’ and arguably the band’s best new song, ‘Non-State Actor’. Despite slightly dated (and occasionally cheesy) graphics occupying the backdrop, the band never falter or fumble. Having re-asserted their collective authority as a band, they play with a confidence that comes across in every track, whether written in 1987 or 2012. ‘Burden In My Hand’ and ‘A Thousand Days Before’ meld into a relatively mellow twosome before Cornell asks for the lights to be shone on the crowd. His interaction with the crowd, perhaps at this juncture more than another point tonight, betrays a genuine warmth and appreciation.

Another semi-hit from the band’s original incarnation “about how bad weather brings out good people” ‘Fell On Black Days’ proves a yearning stand-out track tonight that transports both the crowd and band to another time and place completely in advance of before ‘Blow Up The Outside World’ and ‘Superunknown’ see in the encore. Bathed in red light, the band return after a customary exit, kicking straight into the strident alt-rock glory of ‘Rusty Cage’. The crowd let loose, the powerfully ‘Like Suicide’ follows and the doom metal mantra of ‘Beyond The Wheel’ banishes any residual cobwebs in suitably furious fashion. With at least nine-tenths of the crowd expecting ‘Black Hole Sun (in no small part due to the backdrop) Cameron and Cornell wave goodbye whilst Thayil and Sheperd remain to excavate a fifteen-minute improvised noise dirge of stupendously pummeling proportions. With at least two members of the crowd seen to be crying at the sheer physical impact of this Swans-like outro, Soundgarden withdraw victorious. Brian Coney

is the editor of The Thin Air. Talk to him about Philip Glass and/or follow him on Twitter @brianconey.