Reprinted without permission from the Chicago Sun
Times, November 11, 1996
SOUNDGARDEN LOOSES SONIC WHIRLWIND
Love would have to be pretty loud to outdo Soundgarden.
The Grammy-winning quartet, shoved into the music scene by the 1989 disc "Louder Than Love," was spectacular Saturday night in front of a sold-out crowd at the Aragon.
There's less hair, with only guitarist Kim Thayil still long and shaggy, but more attitude, skill and confidence.
Though Soundgarden is in its 12th year of strident, visceral noisemaking, any concerns about the "Seattle sound" pioneers growing long in the tooth were blown away by their awesome sonic whirlwind.
Welcoming fans ready to mosh at the drop of a riff, Soundgarden launched into a frenetic "Spoonman," and the Aragon went up for grabs. Flannel and bodysurfers flew, impelled by a dense, rhythmic attack. The sound was classic Soundgarden: big, meaty slabs of inventive music, propelled by the brutal rhythm section of bassist Ben Shepherd and drummer Matt Cameron.
"We always like playing here because we get to see Kim's family," said Cornell, and it showed. Soundgarden's edgy roughness has been replaced with a slick, controlled presentation that is more consistent but no less powerful or compelling. This almost-two-hour performance had everything: a rant about the Tyson/Holyfield fight, heavy-handed videos, even a stage visit by Thayil's father.
Cornell's solo version of "Black Hole Sun" gained power in its austere presentation, his plaintive vocals delivered with fervent, eerie intensity.
The best song of the night came during the encore, an insanely hard-rocking "Jesus Christ Pose." Opening with a kick-drum-driven solo from Cameron that practically lifted you from the seat, this tune degenerated into a wild guitar jam. Virtuosic solos were provided by Thayil and Cornell, who gleefully tortured their instruments. This number ended with an ear-shattering blast of feedback, which continued after Soundgarden left the stage.
The opening acts were tossed sacrificially to a crowd that only had eyes for sonic flora. The abysmal garage band Tenderloin was led by an alt-rock Meat Loaf, who removed his shirt to present the apathetic audience with a jiggling, tattooed mound of flesh and boring, repetitive, interminable songs.
With their sequined shirts, horn section and a dancer who also sang backup vocals, Rocket From the Crypt could have brought down a more appreciative house. Like a punk Bill Haley and the Comets, this septet delivered cool tunes and reminded us what a hoot rock 'n' roll can be.