Reprinted with permission from Tom Braman


May 29, Kitsap County Fairgrounds, Bremerton, Wash.
Also appearing: Tad, Eleven, and Edsel County

By Tom Braman
The Internet Reviewer
Copyright 1994

Bremerton, Wash., May 29 (TIR) QQ It's harvest time chez Soundgarden, whose second date on its summer 1994 North American tour proved at least two things: First, that Chris Cornell is merely one-fourth of this chunk-rock band (or at the most, one-third), and second, that the band relies increasingly on one powerful ally: age.

One need only dip into CZ Record's mid-80s proto-grunge sampler, Deep Six, reissued this month, to discover (and despise) Soundgarden's muddy origins. On it, Cornell sounds horrid, with screams that wouldn't pass a USA Up All Night screen test. And the music's nearly as bad.

Over the years, he's learned something about voice control, and on Soundgarden's latest album, "Superunknown," he sounds outright mature. Listening to it, you come away impressed by Cornell, his screams and whispers, his jags and ballads. By comparison, it's as though "Badmotorfinger," the group's previous release, was guitarist Kim Thayil's record, so guitar-heavy it still sounds.

Two years later and in concert, these guys are a team. Backed by bassist Ben Shepherd and drummer Matt Cameron (the other third or half of the band, depending on the song), Cornell and Thayil finger their guitars in unison, rapidly and in their trademark bass registers. While singing, Cornell had occasional trouble piercing though the drilling guitars and drums, yet here was something oddly comforting: No way could he steal the show. Thayil, stone-faced and seemingly less than animated, shined on through his thumpy, dark guitar.

The band's 18-song set (plus three encore numbers) featured much of "Superunknown" and portions of "Badmotorfinger," including the first tune, the drum-driven "Jesus Christ Pose." Long-time Seattle hippie Artis the Spoonman added his now celebrated percussion to "Spoonman," which, though messier than the album version, gave Artis more spotlight than the record.

In part, it was an evening of dedications. Cornell sang "Mailman," about going postal, in remembrance of Charles Campbell, the recently executed Washington state rapist. "I'm sorry they killed you," he said, "'cause I wanted to rape you first." And in an encore, he dedicated "Head Down" to the memory of another Washington execution victim: "This is for Kurt."

Throughout the concert, one couldn't help marveling at the hooks flowing from Thayil's guitar and poppy strains drooling from Cornell's mouth. Not that Soundgarden's gone happy. Far from it. The lyrics are still laden with the usual suspects: blackness, suicide, death, and prayer. But the musical accompaniment sounds more adult than adolescent, more accepting than angry. Are these guys getting on, or what?

Let's hope so. If "Badmotorfinger" was the year the band's voice broke, "Superunknown" and "The Day I Tried To Live" tour is quite possibly Soundgarden's fully bearded effort. We can only pray the beard turns gray.