Live Review: Soundgarden — The Fonda Theatre, Hollywood
Wed, 28 Nov 2012 09:56:13
When it comes to writing about music, it's all too easy to draw comparisons.
For example, "So-and-so sounds like this legendary artist and that makes their music great". However, when a band really makes an impact is when it reaches the level of its collective influences without ever mimicking or replicating them. Soundgarden have always stood alone amongst both their contemporaries and those who came before them.
Watching the band during their transcendent sold out show at The Fonda Theatre in Hollywood last night, their place as legends was continuously reaffirmed over the course of nearly two-and-a-half hours. It wasn't because they nodded to The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath, but because they've rightfully reached the same pantheon after all these years—even with a 16-year break between albums since 1996's Down on the Upside.
As the green curtain opened, the four musicians—Chris Cornell, Kim Thayil, Ben Shepherd, and Matt Cameron—launched into the twisting and turning intro of "Jesus Christ Pose" from Badmotorfinger. Thayil's feedback emanated with brutal bliss as Cameron's tribal drumming propelled their charge as they stood in front of a backdrop brandishing the cover of their triumphant new offering King Animal. The song opened up the floodgates as Shepherd's immortal bass rumbled and Cornell wailed, "It wouldn't pain me more to bury you rich than to bury you poor".
The only things buried were all expectations though. Soundgarden simply reset the bar for everyone to follow, like they've done since day one, mind you. After a corrosively hypnotic "Flower", Cornell jested, "You should all be folding your arms like an industry audience, which is the first audience we ever met when we came down here" that would "look bored and pretend the truth is not happening". Then, his smile widened, "I don't think that's you guys".
Last night wasn't just about history though. In fact, the cuts from King Animal railed with an aggression and vicious vitality that no modern act can even cop to. "Attrition" sailed ahead on the surfed out thrashing from Thayil and Cornell's tight axe work. Meanwhile, "By Crooked Steps" bobbed and weaved with inimitable intensity anchored by one of the best rhythm sections in rock 'n' roll history. Cornell's telecaster blazed brilliantly through "Non-State Actor" as his voice reached staggering heights. Of course, the classics still slayed. Louder Than Love salvo "Gun" warbled on a warped blast of wah-ed out shredding from Thayil that illuminated why he's a true guitar god—the ratcheting solo on "Spoonman" was more evidence of that.
"Outshined" rallied a massive sing-a-long, and "Get on the Snake" elegantly blew minds. "Blow Up the Outside World" highlighted one of the band's best aspects. It's emblematic of their ability to encapsulate haunting, thought-provoking nihilism within the landscape of psychedelic pop. Afterwards, Cornell lightened the mood again, "I don't know how you guys got tickets to this. I couldn't get them".
The show was filled with those human moments, making it even more memorable. Upon finishing "Fell on Black Days", the audience sang happy birthday to drummer Matt Cameron. Superunknown firestarter "My Wave" sent shockwaves through the building, getting bodies moving on the floor as the refrain reverberated through the theatre. Meanwhile, "Burden in My Hand" added a level of intimacy as Cornell pristinely sang.
A standout moment came during "Bones of Birds" from King Animal. The images Cornell's words evoked proved poignant and poetic, and his voice delivered each one flawlessly. He's still one of the greatest singers and songwriters in history, and the track saw this animal at its fiercest yet most reserved, conjuring wonderful tension.
With the animal skulls and snowy forest on the backdrop, Soundgarden drew everyone into the haze of their world, especially during set closer "Rowing". The encore once again evinced every dynamic of the band from the chug of Ultramega OK gem "Incessant Mace" to the majesty of "Black Hole Sun" to the grinding final battle cry of "Slaves and Bulldozers".
The band bared King Animal's claws and more. Everything had its place in the show, making it a moment no one in attendance would forget. Soundgarden can't be compared to anyone. This animal stands alone forever.
—Rick Florino (photos, too)
See what Metallica, Iron Maiden, Mastodon, Gojira, and More have to say about Soundgarden here!
See our review of King Animal here!
For more artists talking Soundgarden click here!
See our review of the album here!
See our top 25 Soundgarden Songs of All-Time Feature here!
See our feature on "Why Soundgarden Will Save Rock N' Roll with King Animal" here!