Friday, July 22, 2011

SOUNDGARDEN: UIC Pavilion, Chicago, IL 07.16.11

When it comes to writing, I’ve NEVER been a “multi-tasker.”  I applaud those of you who can juggle live reviews, movie reviews and music reviews etc. while doing more!  That’s never been me and I don’t think in my 40th year I’m about to turn the corner and even attempt.  Whatever it is I have my head wrapped around seems to totally consume me, it may not be productive but it’s how things work around here. 

Since the last time I was here and wrote about my “Big 4” experience I’ve had no inspiration to return.  I wasn’t really getting out to see bands, no new music was forcing my heart to write what it did to me, haven’t had jack shit as far as time for books and movies…I’ve been just “done” for a while now.

This past weekend was sort of a 50/50 one, had plans for both Friday and Saturday with family and friends and lo and behold both plans were canceled.  On a whim I remembered Soundgarden were playing in town that Saturday night, the Saturday I found myself “open.”  I had no tickets, no pre planned options of shooting the show, nothing, nada, zilch, other than being a fan of them band I don’t even know what possessed me to go.  Pretty unlike me to show any sort of spontaneity in my old age, but this worked out rather well.

With everything from the drive in to the parking to finding tickets with perfect seats the evening was off to a great start.  We missed support band The Mars Volta, but having seen them at what I believe was their “peak” several years ago I didn’t think they’d be able to conjure up anything for me in the much larger UIC. 

Speaking of such, I have to say the ten-thousand plus seats the UIC holds was definitely a bold booking for a band of Soundgarden’s stature.  Even with their millions of albums sold as well as their massive 2010 Lollapalooza appearance they’ve still been gone well over a decade and the “super” unknown (sorry, had to) tour traffic they’d generate in today’s climate had to be taken into consideration.   
I was impressed with the amount of people who left the house to see the band again.  No doubt some of the Chicagoans in attendance on Saturday might have seen either the Lolla set or the ‘Palooza warm-up set at the intimate Vic Theater several days earlier.  I was at neither, I can’t even remember the last time I saw Soundgarden.  I think it may have been when they and Blind Melon did a short run supporting Neil Young in 1993??
So not long after we found our seats the house lights went down and the rather bare stage was awash in blue/purple lights.  As the intro to “Searching with My Good Eye Closed” rang through the PA and I started to reminisce about the times I’d seen the band before, the whole “time” aspect of not only Soundgarden’s music, but all the music that has become such an important in my life.  But indeed the time spent in the “Grunge Years” were some fucked up years, huh?  Important, yes, but fucked up nonetheless.

As the intro reached its maximum volume the band appeared and took their positions,  “Searching…” was always such a great opening song and time has done nothing to change that, in fact it’s probably made it even better.  That same reminiscent thought process I experienced during the song’s intro is something I’d continue to bombard my brain and soul with throughout the show.

“Spoonman,” “Room A Thousand Years Wide,” and the pummeling “Jesus Christ Pose,” were nailed down before Vocalist Chris Cornell addressed the crowd.  Making mention of Guitarist Kim Thayil’s Chicago roots and the fact that the band must love our city as they’ve played here more than anywhere else over the past decade plus.  Of course any type of personalization in the concert going experience is instantly met with approval, tonight was no different.  Did I mention I cannot stand fucking “Spoonman!”  Even so, it was enjoyable tonight. 

One of my favorite SG tracks ever, is from the 1996 ‘Down on the Upside’ album, “Blow up the Outside World.”   Having never had the opportunity to see this song performed live this was one of those moments that transcended the usual excitement of seeing a band play.  This was just beyond “whatever” for me, several days later, it still holds true.  The crowd reception and total participation on this song was also a very pleasant surprise.   A triple shot from the ‘Superunknown’ album followed, “The Day I Tried to Live,” “My Wave,” and “Fell on Black Days,” followed and again this for me, went far beyond a simple “concert.”  I needed an evening with no wife, no kids, no phones, no computer, no nothing.  I needed me and music… 

Individually as well as collectively the performances tonight were simply on another level.  Soundgarden co-founder and current Pearl Jam drummer Matt Cameron basically put on a clinic in power and being a human metronome tonight.  Flawless fucking precision people, seriously.  Bassist Ben Shepherd, never the most visual subject played his ass off as well.  Bass slung low, he is obviously an extremely important cog in the machine and his volume in the mix cemented this fact.   

Guitarist Kim Thayil absolutely came up aces this evening.  His sound was definitely one of the darkest and heaviest I’ve heard in a building this size in a long time.  His work on the next set of songs “Ugly Truth,” “Hunted Down,” “Outshined,” and “Flower” was just rafter shaking heavy.  Always an overlooked riff lord, Thayil whipped out a generation of licks and hardly broke a sweat in the process.   

“Rusty Cage,” “Black Hole Sun,” “Burden in My Hand,” and “Pretty Noose” followed.  Funny, I’ve disliked the song “Black Hole Sun” for many a reason, over played really, but when the band went into it on Saturday it didn’t bother me.  Truthfully all my talk of Soundgarden and time?  “Black Hole Sun” is more of a memory of playing Rock Band with Max.  That’s one of the first songs we played on the game so my connection with the song over time has changed.  

Much has been said of Chris Cornell in the years that followed the silencing of the ‘Garden.  From his solo work as well as his union with the R.A.T.M. rejects, Audioslave to the disastrous Timberland collaboration, Cornell since the earliest days of the band has always been near the headlines.  I’m not sure what I was expecting from the guy, but I know for a fact I wasn’t supposed to be this blown away! Think about all the vocal gods in Rock/Metal and I will say Cornell was absolutely fucking godly in his delivery. 

That being said, the tail end of the show including the encore was some of the best Soundgarden I’ve ever witnessed.  From “4th of July,” to “Nothing To Say,” to “Mailman” to “Beyond The Wheel.”  Closing it all was the immaculate “Slaves and Bulldozers” I cannot remember the last time I had such a “lose yourself for two hours” concert experience.  The vibe was great, I don’t think, make that know I wouldn’t have gotten this feeling from seeing some overly aggressive balls out Metal show, this is what I needed and this is what I got.