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Live Review and Photos: Soundgarden, July 22, 2011, The Forum – Los Angeles, CA



Photos by Philip Cosores

The Forum, formerly the Great Western Forum in the days when the Lakers played there, holds many fond memories for me. As a child, I witnessed Magic, Jordan, Karl Malone, and countless others grace the building, but even more important was my first giant arena rock show. In 1998, I went with my friend to see Pearl Jam perform, with X opening. My dad waited in the car in the parking lot. Johnny Ramone joined them for the encore with a cover of “The KKK Took My Baby Away.” It was… amazing.

On Friday night, I made my first trip back to the Forum since the night of Pearl Jam. And after I was escorted through corridors and led onto the floor where the Lakers used to play, where I had seen Pearl Jam play, I couldn’t help thinking how small it all seemed. Sure, 18,000 people could fit in the room for a show (there were slightly less on Friday), but as a kid, an arena was the biggest place you had ever been. Now, everyone from basketball players to rock stars don’t seem so magnificent, and large rooms don’t seem so expansive. This thought, though, contrasted the night’s headliners: Soundgarden.

After breaking up in 1997, Soundgarden reunited last year with the long-running lineup of Chris Cornell, Ben Shepherd, Kim Thayil, and Matt Cameron. And now, in 2011, the band is playing fucking arenas after 13 years on the shelves, a level they flirted with but never achieved in their prime, proving that sometimes a band’s unravelling can ultimately be its best career move. On Friday night, Soundgarden proved more than ready to take the giant stage, complete with a light show and focus on sound that made the band seem larger than ever.

And this epically scaled incarnation of Soundgarden may seem to contradict the ideology that grunge sprang up from, but, over the course of the last 20 years, I think we have all realized that we didn’t know grunge at all. What seemed like a punk-influenced alternative to the arena-rocking hair metal bands of the time really did not differ much at all from the music that came before it. Likewise, bands like Pearl Jam and Foo Fighters are now more comfortable in an arena than they ever were in a club, and Soundgarden easily fits this mould.

Soundgarden have been keeping with a pretty similar set throughout this reunion tour, pleasing both casual fans and diehards by blending hits and deep cuts throughout. This worked of the most part, with the encore suffering slightly for its lack of hits (“Pretty Noose” would have been great as a closer). Near the start of the show, singer Chris Cornell commented on the new material Soundgarden has been working on, noting that they wanted to debut some new songs, but wouldn’t because there was too much old stuff to play. As a nostalgic fan, I was pleased, but as a curious fan, I was pissed.

After a well-received opening set from The Mars Volta, Soundgarden’s set began with a nice 1-2 of Badmotorfinger‘s “Searching With My Good Eye Closed” and the immortal Superunknown cut, “Spoonman.” The latter caused an eruption with its iconic riff, and during the opening numbers’ bridges, Chris Cornell could be seen posing on all corners of the stage in hopes of interacting with every fan in the massive audience. Bassist Ben Shepherd slapped his bass as if trying to provoke a fight, while Kim Thayil maintained his quiet calm on his respective side of the stage. And, whether it is in his more than capable backup singing or his standout work behind the drumkit, Matt Cameron (no stranger to arenas as he is now the drummer in Pearl Jam) showed that he might be the band’s MVP.

Further standouts of the set appeared in “Jesus Christ Pose,” which saw Cornell making like the titular character with his arms spread wide, and “Outshined,” which has always been a standout in their catalog, and on Friday, showed that it might be their best song. Between numbers, Cornell used his mic time to voice concerns both old (“buy vinyl records!”) and new (“religious organizations should pay taxes”). And this all lead up to a big-time moment of having Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready join them for an inspired take on “Superunknown.”

Sure, the set wasn’t perfect (“Burden In My Hand” seemed out of time from the get-go and never fell into place), but the ease and intimacy that Soundgarden accomplished an arena rock show is nothing at which to scoff. The crowd offered all-ages of fan to either stroll down memory lane or discover this band for the first time. There seemed to be purpose behind the show, beyond the money-making endeavors that most reunion tours are. And, the fact that Soundgarden is going to return to the studio and make a new album reinforces this notion, that maybe Soundgarden still had some life left in them and something to say.

Setlist:

Searching With My Good Eye Closed
Spoonman
Gun
Jesus Christ Pose
Room a Thousand Years Wide
Blow Up the Outside World
Loud Love
Big Dumb Sex
Ugly Truth
Fell on Black Days
Flower
Outshined
Black Rain
Rusty Cage
The Day I Tried to Live
My Wave
Burden in My Hand
Black Hole Sun
Head Down
Superunknown (with Mike McCready)
4th of July

Beyond the Wheel
Hunted Down
Mailman
Slaves & Bulldozers


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