Reprinted without permission from the Daily News,
November 18, 1996
Rock's love affair with Seattle bands may have cooled. But that hasn't weakened an ounce of loyalty from rain city stalwarts Soundgarden. For the band's first full length New York show in over two years, at Roseland on Friday, charismatic frontman Chris Cornell kicked things off by pointedly announcing, "We're a band from Seattle."
Several songs later he led the audience through a curse-filled attack on Rolling Stone Magazine for its current scorched-earth cover story on grunge seer Eddie Vedder.
Cornell's rage for a pilloried friend - and his ardor for a town past its hip prime - makes sense on a personal level. But from a wholly musical viewpoint, Soundgarden's Roseland show presented a band fully fixed to surf whatever fickle trends the music business, and the media, have in store.
Beyond their alt-rock trappings, Soundgarden remains an ever-employable metal band. It's no surprise, then, that the crowd at Roseland comprised mainly male metal loyalists. What they got in return - during this, the first of three sold-out nights, - was a two hour reminder that Soundgarden remains one of the most rhythmically sure live acts of the 90's. They also got something which roundly made up for the bands last, disastrous show here.
Not counting their appetizer of a gig at last summer's Lollapalooza, Soundgarden's previous city show took place in that black hole of a sweat box, The Armory - on the same night that O.J. Simpson floored a nation with his slow speed chase. Those at the Armory would be hard pressed to name the more torturous event.
Here, amid cooler surroundings and with a better sound system, the four man band mined their best grooves, coiling and releasing riffs with the elasticity of a snake.
In some ways, Soundgarden's music still sought to offer all things to all people. For lingering alterna-fans, their songs sport a humid clutch of dark chords that can pass for grunge. For punks, they offered Iggy Pop's "Search & Destroy" and a relatively cheap ticket ($18 for a show of arena length and magnitude). For mainstream fans, they offered hummable pop melodies.
But for vintage metalheads, they offered a dream come true. At root, Soundgarden's riffs suggest Black Sabbath's "Masters Of Reality" combined with Led Zeppelin "II." Specifically, it's Sabbath (without the dumb parts) and Zeppelin (without the arty ones). In numbers like "Outshined," "Pretty Noose," and "Spoonman," guitarist Kim Thayil fashioned huge, circular riffs, pushing and pulling the bass and drums into a fierce chase. The momentum gave the band's sludgiest riffs swing. Even the swampy cover of "Helter Skelter" brewed with a voodoo charm, while the tar pit chords in "Rusty Cage" proved as exhilerating as the most fleet speed metal.
If the audience for all this has now spun down to a hard, sizable core, Soundgarden earned their faith in a performance bursting with prime metal crunch.