Monday, July 11, 2011

Soundgarden rock Newark's Prudential Center

Soundgarden made a triumphant return to the New York area, with shows in Newark and at Jones Beach on Friday and Saturday.

Soundgarden made a triumphant return to the New York area, with shows in Newark and at Jones Beach on Friday and Saturday.
It took a full 75 minutes for the moshing to begin. And even then, it only lasted for two numbers and just a handful of fans took part.

That should come as no surprise. The participants in this ancient ritual, practiced Friday night, all fell between their mid 30s and late 40s, as did just about everyone else in Newark's Prudential Center Arena that evening. So did the group they'd come to see - Soundgarden, the most fiercely metallic of the grunge-era pioneers, a band that hadn't played the New York area in a shocking 14 years. (They also headlined Jones Beach Theater Saturday night).  

So how did a group of such age and wear end up sounding so muscular and spry?

Credit both their enduring talents and the flattering contrast to today's rock mainstream. It's been so long since any band attacked the charts with a sound this bold, anyone who can carries the same power as the whole Seattle wave that first drove Soundgarden to fame two long decades ago. (This Fall will mark the 20th anniversary of the key work that led that charge:Nirvana's "Nevermind.")

Since Soundgarden's collapse in 1997, lead yowler, and quintessential sex symbol, Chris Cornell has fronted a host of projects, including the lesser, hard-charging band Audioslave and a rash of solo projects. The latter ranged from the sublime (a one man acoustic tour that entranced Town Hall two months ago) to the unfortunate (an electronically-minded bomb withTimbaland). 

Even Cornell's brightest spots haven't given him as consistently exhilarating a platform as Soundgarden does. Thankfully, the key foursome finally reunited last year for a few live dates, their first since the '97. That led to the current tour, which precedes what, they promise, will be their first studio album since ‘96's "Down On The Upside," to be released in the Spring. 

Small wonder their current set overwhelmingly culled their greatest hits and finest original album tracks.  After apologizing to fans "for the long wait," to see them again, Cornell announced "these are old songs...at least if you go by the calendar."

In fact, they seemed anything but wizened. The concussive guitar lines in "Spoonman" have no less punch today. The fiercely circular riffs in "Rusty Cage" retain just as strong an undertow. 

The group performed these songs with the panache of their prime. The way bassist Ben Shepard hammered his instrument with his massive fingers gave the songs nearly as much musicality and spine as Kim Thayil's guitar. Matt Cameron, always one of rock's most voracious drummers, added enough rhythm fills to keep these lean songs full. And, with almost alarming consistency, Cornell unleashed his highest wails. 

The band's songs find an ideal rockers' balance of melodic distinction and metal thunder. "Superunknown" has a tune equal in appeal to its brisk beat. "My Wave" draws on new wave pop without selling out its rock edge, while "Jesus Christ Pose" had such impact through sheer velocity and density, it didn't need anything like a melody to hook us.  

"Outshined" (the song that inspired that flash of moshing) exuded just the macho strut the rock world has been thirsting for. It's impossible to know if the band's upcoming album will live up to that daunting record. But even if it doesn't, the legacy Soundgarden pounded out here will do rock history proud.

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