The alternative rock icons showcased all very loud eras of their career at Palladium Ballroom on May 26.
Soundgarden’s last venture into Dallas/Fort Worth was at the considerably larger Verizon Theatre in Grand Prairie back in 2011. At that time, King Animal had not yet been released. Nostalgia filled the room, and though the band sounded spot on, engaging with the audience proved to be difficult.
Cut to May 26 of this year, and Soundgarden is able to transition from popular radio hits such as Superunknown’s “My Wave” to King Animal’s lead single “Been Away Too Long” with an elevated enthusiasm from the audience to a club of little more than 3,000.
Singer Chris Cornell’s vocals contain a raspy overtone nowadays, but still possess the impressive range and emotive wail that has led to him being declared the ninth best singer of all time by Rolling Stone. Cornell was able to hit the peak of his screeching falsetto on songs such as “Jesus Christ Pose” and “Beyond the Wheel” that would leave most rock singers with a sore throat in the morning.
Instead of a safe greatest hits set, Soundgarden instead opted for a left-of-center mix including “Hunted Down” from the first EP Screaming Life in 1987 and “Tighter & Tighter” from the massively underrated Down on the Upside. Surprises of the night were the omission of hits such as “Black Hole Sun,” “Spoonman,” and “Burden in My Hand,” but considering the group was never a formulaic band, it was refreshing to see a generally successful rock band play a handmade selection rather than a repetitive set list.
As expected, the crowd still reacted the most to radio hits, but also sang along to recent output as well. Drummer Matt Cameron’s son Ray was on stage to play guitar for one of the songs, and brought to mind the realization that several adults in the crowd relatively the same age as the band members are now bringing their children to the show (or at least the fans able to afford the $59.50 ticket), giving the live experience a new diversity.
The technicality of these rock veterans should not be underestimated. Guitarist Kim Thayil’s instantly recognizable and often oddly tuned, heavy riffs blended perfectly with bassist Ben Shepard’s and Matt Cameron precision. Instead of solos, each band member knows how to compliment the other in order to weave together complex compositions. Most of the songs didn’t vary much from the recorded studio versions, but then again Soundgarden would have a lot of eight minute songs if that happened. The sole song in the encore was “Slaves & Bulldozers,” which morphed into an extended, droning closing.
There may not be moshing, flannel, and a sweaty, shirtless Chris Cornell at the gigs anymore, but Soundgarden is still proving the band’s heavy, constructive alternative rock is timeless both on record and live.