Soundgarden: Then And Now

Lollapalooza has been known for presenting the latest and greatest in cutting edge music since its inception way back in 1991, and while I am excited about seeing what’s new in the world of rock, I’m most excited about the return of Soundgarden. Though Nirvana were more iconic and Pearl Jam sold more albums, Soundgarden will always be the band that best represented what “grunge” was supposed to sound like. The sludgy metal riffs, punked-up rhythms, angsty bellows and big hooks all added up to a brew that was a little bit of the past and — in 1992, at least, when Soundgarden first played Lollapalooza — a lot of the future.

After a 13-year hiatus, Soundgarden are back together for another run. I’m dubious of reunions, as most of the time they are designed to be a cash-grab that exploits the nostalgia of a group’s biggest fans. So when I made my way to the Vic Theatre in Chicago on Thursday night (August 5) for only the band’s second show since their break-up, I didn’t know what to expect.

And then Chris Cornell entered.

With his long, curly metal locks back at full strength and an ensemble that included long board shorts and Chuck Taylors (an outfit similar to the one he wore on multiple photo shoots during the band’s peak), Cornell opened up the show with a huge metal dirge in the form of “Searching With My Good Eye Closed,” a fan-favorite deep cut from their 1992 album Badmotorfinger. It was clear the band were back to play the songs they loved and not necessarily their radio hits (though they played those, too). It was a bracing, refreshing, heavy night of music.

I last saw Soundgarden in 1996, when they appeared as the special surprise guest at a radio festival. What I didn’t know they was that they were on the verge of breaking up and that their recently-released album Down on the Upside was considered a commercial and critical disappointment (though at the time, all I knew was that I really, really liked the song “Ty Cobb”). But they put forth the same level of passion, commitment and noise in 1996 as they did last night. These guys never lost a step — they just lost a few years.

I’ll be honest: Soundgarden didn’t play one of the songs I desperately wanted to hear (that would be “The Day I Tried to Live,” though maybe they’ll slip it into their festival-closing set this Sunday). But I definitely wandered out of the Vic feeling good, if only because Soundgarden proved it was possible to go home again (and do it really, really loudly).