Soundgarden's grungey return leaves little to complain about at Rogers Arena
Due to its proximity to Seattle, Vancouver has enjoyed a special kinship to the famed grunge bands of the Emerald City. Before making it big the plaid-clad lads in Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden, hungry for gigs, would head north to rock our socks off at small venues like the long-shuttered Town Pump in Gastown. We embraced them wholeheartedly, not missing our socks at all. And judging by the loud love expressed both by and for Soundgarden at Rogers Arena last night, that feeling is as strong as ever.
The show kicked off with an acoustically disastrous set by the Meat Puppets, a Phoenix rock trio with alt and punk leanings that’s been around since 1980, off and on, and was a major influence on the grunge scene. The group is composed of founding members/brothers Curt and Cris Kirkwood, with Shandon Sahm—son of Texas music legend Doug—on drums. The indie icons paid homage to the Seattle sound by performing all three of the Curt Kirkwood-penned tunes Nirvana recorded live for its MTV Unplugged in New York album—"Oh, Me", "Lake of Fire", and "Plateau". They also pulled off a version of the Beach Boys’ "The Sloop John B", during which the shirtless and shockingly pale Sahm substituted his bare fingers for drumsticks.
Taking it up a notch was the night’s other guest, Queens of the Stone Age, which seemed to benefit greatly, soundwise, from the fact that the rink was well padded with bodies by the time it hit the stage. Even though it often had three guitars raging at once, the Josh Homme-led quintet from Palm Desert, California, mostly overcame the soul-withering sound mix that had tortured the Puppets.
"You guys are sick, sick, sick, sick, sick," declared singer-guitarist Homme when it came time to bang out "Sick, Sick, Sick", a tune off the band’s last album, 2007’s Era Vulgaris. When he introduced one song as being "about telling authority to go fuck itself," many in the party-hearty crowd took that as a cue to spark up joints, the show’s heavy security presence be damned. No doubt a lot of the tokers were also fans of Homme’s previous stoner-metal act, Kyuss.
QOTSA’s exhilirating set lit the audience’s fuse, and by the time Soundgarden took the stage the near-capacity crowd was psyched for action. The classic lineup of singer Chris Cornell, guitarist Kim Thayil, bassist Ben Shepherd, and drummer Matt Cameron didn’t spend a lot of time with chit-chat, but got straight to work churning out the riff-driven, Sabbath-influenced hits that ruled the airwaves back in the early- to mid-”˜90s.
The brunt of the band’s 20-some-odd-song set was taken from the double-platinum 1991 Badmotorfinger album ("Rusty Cage", "Outshined", "Jesus Christ Pose", "Searching With My Good Eye Closed") and its five-times-platinum 1994 followup, Superunknown ("Fell on Black Days", "My Wave", "The Day I Tried to Live", "Spoonman", "Black Hole Sun"). Back in the group's heyday the swaying vibe of the latter tune would have led large portions of the crowd to salute it with Bic lighters held on high, but that habit has long been usurped by the mass illumination of camera phones.
Although Soundgarden’s performance wasn’t the stuff of legend, it left little to complain about. Cornell can still screech with the best of them, Thayil brings the six-string dynamite, and the rhythm section is a formidable force. Cameron’s colossal drumwork definitely made him the night’s MVP.
The group ended its three-song encore with the Badmotorfinger track "Slaves & Bulldozers", bolstering it with a few Zeppelinesque bars of the traditional gospel-blues song "In My Time of Dying". Considering the quartet’s obvious indebtedness to the monster riffs of Tony Iommi, it would have been more apt if it had figured out a way to incorporate a Black Sabbath tune instead. But that might have been just a bit too perfect.