Soundgarden brings killer riffs and a sound mix from hell to Vancouver

At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Sunday, February 10

Vancouver's Soundgarden fans had real reason to rejoice in 2010 when the classic lineup of singer Chris Cornell, guitarist Kim Thayil, bassist Ben Shepherd, and drummer Matt Cameron reunited after 12 years apart, and then announced a summer arena tour that included a stop at Rogers Arena on July 30, 2011.

But the excitement level for those same fans reached new heights in 2012 when the quartet—in the wake of releasing King Animal, its first album in 16 years—lined up a winter soft-seater tour that would include a stop at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on February 10, 2013. Not surprisingly, the show was an instant sellout.

Considering how impressive they were in the home of the Canucks, I for one was psyched about seeing Soundgarden perform in the much more intimate confines of the Queen E. My only concern—after checking on setlist.fm website—was that the band hadn't included "Outshined" in its set two nights prior at the Paramount Theatre, in its Seattle hometown. I mean, could I really get the most out of a Soundgarden gig without hearing my favourite tune of theirs?

As it turned out, the band did play "Outshined" last night—along with my other fave Soundgarden track, "Fell on Black Days". There was no problem with the song selection at all, in my books. The only problem was with the sound mix, which started off atrocious and stayed that way for the entire two-hour show.

The acoustics in the QE can be pretty great, but apparently not so much for hard-rock acts. Subpar sound was evident when Chickenfoot played the venue last summer, only it wasn't half as bad as it was last night. Where I was sitting Soundgarden's guitar, bass, and drums coagulated into one hurtin', muddy mess, while Cornell's lyrics were indecipherable throughout. You just don't expect a band to sound way worse in a theatre than it did in a hockey rink.

Maybe I happened to get stuck in a particularly poor-sounding location, because it wasn't as if the crowd fled in droves from the racket—or formed a posse to lynch the offending soundman. They held their ground and cheered every song, though not with any rabid enthusiasm.

As well as tracks from King Animal—including the rifftastic opener, "Been Away Too Long"—Cornell and Co. focused on material from the top-selling '90s albums Badmotorfinger ("Jesus Christ Pose", "Rusty Cage", "Outshined") and the five-times-platinum Superunknown ("Fell on Black Days", "Black Hole Sun").

There wasn't much verbal communication between the band and the audience, which was fine with me, since I'm from the "less talkin', more rockin'" school of thought. But a bit more in the way of visuals would have been nice, as it seemed like a lot of the lights that were set up were hardly even used. The most exciting thing that happened on-stage was when one overzealous fan crawled up and leapt around a bit before being tackled by a roadie and dragged away.

I hate to say it, 'cause I admire the group, but judging by Sunday night, Soundgarden has fallen on black days itself.

Or maybe it was just the soundman.

Comments (18) Add New Comment
Tyler
I thought the show was great with a really interesting and diverse set list. The sound was pretty bad where I was sitting up in the balcony. I thought they looked like they were having a good time on stage. Lots of interaction with the first few rows.
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Rating: +6
jimmy
Only after reading this valley girl tripe about one supposed to be rad, but gnarly night did I scroll up to see who wrote it. Steve, you are usually better. My high school paper had better writing and analysis. And making your bad experience with the sound the primary focus is a cop out, followed closely with "I hope they play my favourite favourite songs" mantra. Visually too, there was an abundance not the dearth you describe. I can't say I was a fan of all of the cgi snow scenes, but there were several, changing backdrops, all complementary to their song. You didn't touch on how tight they were, yet seemingly comfortable and loose with each other. You were right about the setlist that changes every night. It contained the hits you wanted but some other album track nuggets, including ones that weren't the single off the new album. The new material shone on its own, showing the band as viable and in the game for more than a nostalgic cash grab. Sorry you had poor sound in your seat, and sorry we had to hear about that instead of the quality show performed.
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Rating: -15
Philly
A good review. Despite the protestations of the fanboys, the mix was a garbled mess regardless of where you were in the theatre. The setlist was fine, the band tight - but the sound was very lacking.
Rating: +502
Meathead
Yeah, good show but the sound was terrible beyond description. Maybe the PA was the same one they were using back in 93, you know, with manual crossovers and stuff. I was half ready to go downstairs to The Media Club and grab that old guy who techs there... he would have fixed it up in a second!
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Rating: -3
Jenn
Totally agree with this review - I was worried I was the only one who thought I was listening to Soundgarden on an old cassette tape or something. It was great to see the guys together but even the biggest fans have to admit there was very little energy in the room and the sound royally sucked. Disappointing.
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Rating: -9
Lofft
If you expect your fans to pay that much for a ticket, we can expect you to hire a good sound person. WTF. Seriously. I had friends that went in Seattle and they said the sound was bad there as well
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Rating: -13
Mels
Great setlist!!!! This was very true of the sound in the QE for this show, I found it poor and muddled together compared to Rogers show. I know that Ben was giving signals to the guy sitting beside Matt(moving his mic back and forth) during Black hole Sun to wrap thing up, and when the next song ended with not so much as a Thank you Vacouver, and with Ben immediately turning of his amps and walking off stage was a sign they were indeed as upset as their fans. Glad to have went to see them regardless! Cheers to all the SG fans out there!
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Rating: +15
Pat Crowe
Modern P.A. mixers have programmed in digital templates for theatres, arenas, clubs, stadiums, outdoor sound mix's.
There is no excuse for poor sound in ANY room anymore.
People should demand refunds.


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Rating: -9
Vict
Well, it looks pretty unanimous that the sound mix was crap! How does a band with SG's chops come off sounding like an over-amped garage band? I was at the Slash/Myles Kennedy show in the same venue and the sound was light years better. Maybe SG need to make sure their road crew stays sober on gig nights. What a freakin waste of money...
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Rating: +10
Vict
"You didn't touch on how tight they were, yet seemingly comfortable and loose with each other." - and you're giving him stick about HIS writing??
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Rating: +1
Shavopicto
At the end of the first song, all I could think was "I hope the entire show doesn't sound this horrible!" What a mess...Haven't seen Soundgarden since Lollapalooza '92, and couldn't wait! Left completely disappointed. The sound was inexcusable.
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Rating: -12
doglaw
Whining about the sound at a grunge show is like complaining about the quality of Never Mind the Bollocks on cd. Grandaddy Lemmy's formula in praxis, baby. "Everything Louder than Everything Else!!"
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Rating: -26
huge fan of the show
Sound was "loud as f**k" as it was billed and was pretty dam sweet from row 3 center of the balcony! Lights were awesome. The fully white lit stage was reminiscent of an intimate basement type gig. i thought the lights were real appropriate for the venue. They crammed in about 27 songs! Great intro to a great new album. Sounded to me like that material has been waiting to be heard since the hay days. Maybe take out the ear plugs next time dude!
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Rating: -15
out at night
Ah, sound quality. You get what you get at a rock show, and it's usually too loud, distorted, not great. Sometimes it's awesome. But I have often seen people leave shows with scrunched up sourpuss faces complaining about the "terrible sound quality" and thought to myself, "What? But, but, it's still a great show! Who cares if it's a bit cruddy around the edges and not what you'd have liked? It's still a great show and you're a loser for walking out you sniffy, fussy little non-fun-having schmuck."

But Soundgarden was not a great show, sound quality quite aside. There was no love coming from them. It looked like they didn't particularly want to be there, the songs were often smooshed together and sounded alike in many instances. I don't demand stage theatrics (though I'll take them gladly) but Cornell and co were pretty lacklustre and it was the audience who actually carried the flag.
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Rating: -3
Northbay
The same horrible sound occured in Oakland tonight, I have seen them before, in large and small venues, and was terribly disappointed. Loud is expected, not being able to hear one of the best voices in rock history was not. We aren't sure if it was the venue or the mix.
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Rating: +1
BayArea
The consensus across a variety of sites is that Soundsgarden's live sound has been singularly awful for at least the last two years; I can't find reviews for shows from back in the day. The sound quality/mix is, therefore, not a mistake: it would have been fixed a long time ago if it were. If there is such a thing as karma, then whoever is responsible for the god-awful maelstrom of sonic smoke turd that is Soundgarden's live sound will be forced to listen to it at the ear-shattering levels I experienced for, hmmm....eternity. Shame on you Chris Cornell for not protecting your legacy; you sounded like shit.
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Rating: -16
Miguel Diego
I came away awestruck by the musicianship that was on display and that overwhelmed any gripes I had about the sound. Matt Cameron is a beat machine and, for whatever reason, I enjoyed this show more than the Rogers Arena show. I thought the new songs came across pretty well and, although I wanted to hear Like Suicide, the setlist was deep and not worthy of complaint.
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Rating: -8
Terry Hilton
The house sound system in the QE is state of the art. It is a meyer line array. I would be pretty confident that sound garden tours with their own sound mixer that mixed the show. In this instance you can't blame the tools (ie the sound system)
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Rating: -11
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