Words by Jeb Gavin, Photos by Haley Plotkin
In a recent interview on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, Dave Grohl mused as to whether the guys from Ratt ever wonder how Bon Jovi kept going all these years. I wonder if other early ’90s alt rock bands look at Soundgarden (and obviously Foo Fighters,) unsure how these guys could pick up where they left off a dozen years hence without missing a step.
Friday night at DAR Constitution Hall, Chris Cornell and company proved their vitality once again. On a scale of one to Soundgarden, this show was a solid Soundgarden. While that may seem redundant, understand I mean to say that this is now the high bar for how I judge amphitheater rock shows from now on.
My last even remotely comparable experience was seeing the Black Keys play the Verizon Center back in March of last year. It wasn’t a terrible show, but having seen the Keys play in smaller rooms (and also larger venues like at Merriweather) I was keenly aware of how their sound doesn’t scale. In contrast, Soundgarden’s show expands to fill the volume of the room. Every aspect of the performance is structured to support every other part, and gets bigger no matter the size of the house.
The music in particular is, well, I’ll say it again: vital. As elements of the performance stack one on top of another, so to do the instrumentation and vocals. Kim Thayil’s fretwork looks exhausting; it explains his sturdy stance and laconic appearance- every ounce of energy goes into extracting the maximum amount of sound from a single guitar. Cornell sings every note like it could be his last, leading me to wonder if his loved ones live their lives wearing earplugs to keep from developing tinnitus around him. And while nowhere near as acrobatic, Matt Cameron’s backing vocals added a much needed layer between Cornell’s rasping arias and Thayil and Cornell’s guitar playing. It’s the sort of thing you only miss when you start to watch the ongoing battle between Cameron’s tech and his boom mic, a fascinating bit of physical comedy right below a moving screen of stark landscapes, tankers run aground, and occasionally bloody eyeballs which would twitch, looking every which way around the room.
Getting back to the idea of longevity, it great for nostalgia’s sake to see a band I loved as a kid still together, still playing great music. It’s all the more impressive they’re still making great music, still playing two hour shows kicking ass and melting faces. Sometimes nostalgia is folly, a pleasant but inessential distraction. In this case, nostalgia becomes something else: deserved veneration for a great band playing an amazing concert.