Reprinted without permission from the Toronto Sun, November 14, 1996


Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell performed a strange test midway through his band's show at Varsity Arena last night.

He wanted to gauge if the sold-out audience of about 5,000 was with him.

"This next song basically says 'F--- you,' " the Seattle singer-guitarist said while introducing Soundgarden's tune My Wave. "I don't want to say that to you, but if I did want to, I would."

"I want you to tell us, 'F--- you.'"

And did they ever. Ah, appreciation in the '90s.

The expletive-fuelled roar of approval showed that Soundgarden hold a lot of good, old-fashioned sway over their fans in the heat of a concert. No apathy here.

But the band's approach otherwise broke with traditional hard rock cliches. They're one of the few popular hard rock bands left that don't have piercings up to their eyeballs. Cornell is The Handsomest Man In Rock -- check out his smiling mug on the current cover of hip men's fashion mag Details -- but he hasn't doffed his shirt onstage in years.

Soundgarden's post-metal din at times screamed out for flashpots and cheesy lights, but the band didn't give in to temptation. A bad guitar solo always seemed just around the corner, but never arrived. Soundgarden rock in very good taste. The fact that the quartet relied on little more than their own sonic power was a plus.

Opening with Spoonman, from 1994's Superunknown album, Cornell and company went great guns on volume. They seemed to know that, in the Varsity echo chamber, it's do or die.

The band kept things diverse with tunes off their current hit record Down On The Upside, which ranged from mid-paced and spacey numbers like Pretty Noose, Burden In The Hand and Zero Chance to the punked-up Ty Cobb and Never Named.

Cornell's subtle onstage dramatics contrasted well with calm guitarist Kim Thayil, fidgety bassist Ben Shepherd and, well, partially visible drummer Matt Cameron.

There was plenty of room for Thayil and Cornell to noodle, but it was Shepherd's bass grind that packed the greatest wallop. He may not have thought so, seeing how he up and smashed a bass to pieces mid-set.

Cornell went it alone for a solo take on Black Hole Sun during the band's encore.

Soundgarden also treated the crowd to older hits, including Rusty Cage and Outshined, off 1991's Badmotorfinger.

Cornell introduced the former -- covered very well by Johnny Cash on his latest album -- as "a new song everyone's talking about."

Sarcastic, yes. No doubt Cornell's own twisted way of showing his appreciation for the honor.

Rating: 4/5