Reprinted without permission from the Honolulu Advertiser, February 10, 1997

by Gary C.W. Chun

What made the last show of Soundgarden's world tour at the Blaisdell Arena memorable was not the great-sounding music, unfortunately, but the surly behavior of Ben Shepherd. Shepherd, who plays his low-slung bass with an assertive, rumbling pulse, made his bad mood known both to his bandmates and the audience more than halfway through the concert last night. What triggered his tantrum could have been problems with his instrument, but in any event he spent the remainder of the concert kicking at a side stage light, making obscene gestures to the audience and occasionally spitting in the general direction of bandmates Matt Cameron and Kim Thayil. Lead singer and guitarist Chris Cornell had some words with Shepherd, but that apparently didn't appease him. At the end of 'Blow Up the Outside World,' he brought everything to an abrupt halt as he took off his bass, threw it up in the air, gave the audience the finger and stalked off stage.

It had been a good concert before all of this came crashing down, and occasionally inspiring. The so-called Seattle 'grampas of grunge' showed they could still deliver the goods in an arena-sized venue. Two stints at Lollapaloza, in 1992 and this past summer playing alongside the likes of Metallica, make Soundgarden true survivors in the music biz. Their sound has matured from their early 'grunge' inspiration of '70s larger-than-life rock riffs with '80s hard-core punk energy, to a rolling powerhouse music with equal parts Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Black Flag cut through with melodic hooks.

Before Shepherd's distractions, all seemed well as the quartet started with the beckoning call of 'Spoonman.' It was a good example of the band's trademark of slipping in unusual meters that didn't detract from the band's visceral rock sound. The sparse stage setup was the perfect setting for Soundgarden's no-nonsense stage presence. The carefully synchronized lighting provided the needed dramatic punctuation.

Cornell is the focus of the band, and while he is no longer the bare-chested, long-haired, sexy screamer of younger days, his self-admitted 'classic rock' vocal style is muscular, but not in a macho way. It cuts through with authority over the controlled tumult created around him by lead guitarist Thayil, Shepherd and especially drummer Cameron.

The bulk of their set list came from the band's last three albums, 'Badmotorfinger,' 'Superunknown' and their latest, 'Down on the Upside.' 'Outshined' (with its memorable couplet, "I'm looking California/and feeling Minnesota") and 'Rusty Cage' (which Cornell dedicated to "the man in black," Johnny Cash, who covered the song himself on his recent album) were audience favorites. 'My Wave' got a more focused, angrier reading than the almost bright and jaunty album version. And the band's big radio crossover hit, 'Black Hole Sun,' became a solo personal number with just Cornell singing and his guitar, to red floodlights and beams illuminating the arena. The band especially clicked on the songs from 'Down on the Upside.' 'Pretty Noose,' 'Burden In My Hand' and the inspired hatred of 'Ty Cobb,' showed the band bearing down at full bore.

Hopefully Shepherd's onstage behavior was the result of exhaustive touring, and not the manifestation of ill feelings that may threaten the band's existence. There's still a lot of music from this Soundgarden.