Soundgarden at the Orpheum Theatre, 2/2/13
Photo By Steve Cohen
An Evening With Soundgarden
Orpheum Theatre, Minneapolis
February 2, 2013
In their first Twin Cities appearance in 19 years, Soundgarden aggressively turned back the clock on Saturday night at a sold-out Orpheum Theatre. The grunge veterans treated the boisterous, well-lubricated crowd to the restless sounds of their unsettled origins during a spirited 2 1/4 hour performance. Their scorching 26-song set surprisingly dug deep into their classic early material, especially during the show's raucous start, and the four new songs on offer from the recently released King Animal (their first studio album since 1996's Down on the Upside) fit in pretty seamlessly alongside their older work.
As the curtain rose at long last on a Soundgarden show in Minnesota, the quartet launched into a slow-burning oldie straight from the start, easily winning over longtime fans with a dark, moody take on "Incessant Mace," from their 1988 debut full-length Ultramega OK. The slow, restrained live reworking of the classic track contained musical elements of the far more familiar "New Damage," but the song and the band gradually caught fire. Frontman Chris Cornell paced around restlessly before perching himself on top of the monitors lining the front of the stage as the mercurial older number truly took flight.
"Minneapolis, how are you feeling? It's been a long time, too long," Cornell said, before introducing the next shocking number, "This is from our first EP with Sub Pop," as the band tore into the sludgy brutality of Screaming Life's lead-off track, "Hunted Down." After the number drew to a fitful close, Cornell asked drummer Matt Cameron how long it truly has been since the band played Minneapolis, with the band mistakenly thinking it was all the way back in 1992 before the crowd corrected them that it was '94.
Photos By Steve Cohen
"It's been too fucking long, that's how fucking long it's been," Cornell said emphatically, before addressing the wintry snow falling outside. "What a quintessentially beautiful Minneapolis/St. Paul evening for us to come back here. It's exactly as I'd hoped it would be out there. It's fucking beautiful." And with that, guitarist Kim Thayil led the guys through a storming rendition of "Flower."
"Outshined" quickly gave the younger fans an anthem to sing along to, especially on the "Looking California, but feeling Minnesota" line, which Cornell used to warmly bond with the supportive crowd. It was a triumphant moment, with Cornell nailing all of the notes before taking a well-earned deep bow as the fiery song drew to a close. Chris stripped down to a white T-shirt and strapped on a guitar for a hard-charging run through of "Let Me Drown," as the Badmotorfinger logo flashed on a giant screen behind the band (a bit odd, since the track is on Superunknown). It was a loose rendition and far from technically perfect, causing Ben Shepherd to laugh uproariously at one point.
Cornell snuck in a couple subtle lines from "Jesus Loves Me" before the group really caught fire on a blistering rendition of "Jesus Christ Pose," which took on a punkish, breathless urgency and was one of the night's clear highlights. "We're going to do one more older one before we play you a new song," Cornell explained before the group dusted off a simmering, punishing take on the Louder Than Love standout, "Gun," which gradually built to an untamed squall that featured Shepherd and Cornell locking in on their wild discord.
Photo By Steve Cohen
New song "By Crooked Steps" had a lot to live up to, coming as it did after all those volatile early songs, and the blustery track fit seamlessly within the band's explosive start. A plodding, indecisive version of "Rhinosaur" was the only misstep at the beginning of the set, but the band quickly remedied that with a dynamic, impassioned rendition of "Hands All Over" really set the regal theatre off. It was 45-minutes into the show, and the group had only played one new song.
Cornell addressed how "Hands All Over" was written before environmentalism became fashionable, and that "Gun" was written when Reagan was president, before the band brought us boldly into the here and now with a forceful take on their new single, "Been Away Too Long," complete with ominous wintry scenes on the screen behind them that looked an awful lot like the city did that night. A hypnotic, expansive take on "My Wave" quickly followed, and found the band locked into a mesmerizing groove at the end.
A desolate image of an abandoned country cross at a long-forgotten burial site complimented the moody desolation of "The Day I Tried To Live," after which the crowd roared their appreciation. "Thank you very much," Cornell muttered before catching himself on his slight, Elvis-like drawl. "That was kind of Memphis of me, wasn't it? I'm from the Pacific Northwest, so if that happens it's entirely an accident." The show continued down a dark, introspective path, as forlorn but still stirring versions of "Blow Up the Outside World," "Fell On Black Days," and "Zero Chance" all brought a gloomy edge to the performance.
Photos By Steve Cohen
But that edge was lost a bit during tepid takes on the new songs, "Non-State Actor" and "Eyelid's Mouth," and the set was in serious need of a spark at this point. And "Drawing Flies" provided just the combustible flash that the show demanded, with Cornell singing the second half of the rowdy number from his knees, lost in the churning desperation of the track. They followed that up with a punk-fueled take on "Ty Cobb," with the crowd singing the chorus of "Hard headed, fuck you all" in full voice, causing Chris to exclaim afterward, "Well done! Minne and St. Paul have some angst."
"This song is for you people only," Cornell continued, as the band brought a lively version of "Fresh Tendrils" while bathed in a blood-red light. "I hope and I pray that it won't take us as long as last time to come back here," Chris said appreciatively as the main set drew to a close. "You guys have been fucking amazing. Thank you very much." A captivating run through of "Superunknown" saw the band off to a justified ovation, with the crowd not wanting the band to leave or the music to stop, even for just a brief moment.
Photo By Steve Cohen
As the band all returned to the stage, smiling broadly for the encore, Cornell took out his phone to capture some video of the roaring, appreciative crowd, encouraging us, "Better make some noise for the folks back home." A vigorous version of "Spoonman" kicked things off, pleasing the legion of fans who had been requesting it all night. But it was a blinding rendition of "Rusty Cage" which really jump started the encore, with the band pouring everything they had into the revved up take before they headed back to the West Coast for the remainder of their U.S. tour.
But they had one last musical surprise left in them, closing the night out with a thunderous, feedback-laden, 13-minute version of "Slaves and Bulldozers" which was augmented by epic scenes of destruction and decay on the screens behind the band -- striking images of civilization laid to waste while Soundgarden did the same to our eardrums. Cameron left the stage first, as the three remaining members all crafted a deafening squall of feedback and fury.
Cornell exited next, giving the crowd a last appreciative gesture of thanks, while Shepherd left his bass upside down, leaning against the speaker stacks, as he took a deep bow and left the stage to Thayil, who took in the massive crowd one last time as he left his textured guitar strains ringing deep into the theatre. It was a grand, triumphant return for Soundgarden, one that was certainly a long time coming but ultimately well-worth the wait.
Personal Bias: Soundgarden and I go way back to the early '90s.
The Crowd: Packed with passionate fans who were taking full advantage of the bar before, during, and surely after the show. Though I was surprised there wasn't more headbanging coming from the audience.
Overheard In The Crowd: "I got my kids a babysitter and I'm going to see Soundgarden!"
Random Notebook Dump: The only thing the night was lacking was "Loud Love," otherwise this was a damn near perfect Minneapolis return for Soundgarden. Also, new songs "Black Saturday" and "Bones Of Birds" were on the original setlist, but went unplayed.
Let Me Drown
Jesus Christ Pose
By Crooked Steps
Hands All Over
Been Away Too Long
The Day I Tried To Live
Blood On The Valley Floor
Blow Up The Outside World
Fell On Black Days
Rusty Cage (Encore)
Slaves and Bulldozers (Encore)
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