Live Shots: Soundgarden at the Fox Theater

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It took Soundgarden a full 10 songs before it began to flex its muscles at the Fox Theater on Tuesday night, before the band dialed in and proved what out-and-out Badmotorfingers the four musicians can be. I doubt that the enamored (and now half-deaf) crowd leaving the Fox would have agreed with me on this point about the band’s early setlist sluggishness. Soundgarden delivered in a big way, and you would have been hard-tasked to find an audience member complaining after the dynamic, eardrum-crippling, 27- song performance.

Even still, the band languished a bit in that first third of the set, partly a result of a muddy sound mix that rendered hard-charging classics like “Flower” and “Jesus Christ Pose” to just a massive rumble. But mostly, it was the stream of tracks off of its painfully tepid new album, King Animal, that kept the early set surprisingly disjointed. 

Yes, you’d be inclined to think that a Soundgarden album titled King Animal might infer some epically heavy songs, the growl of some primordial beast lurching forth from the muck of Puget Sound. Instead, it’s a creature without teeth, a ho-hum late career effort (think Jane’s Addiction’s Strays or the Stooges’ The Weirdness), with long odds on breaking its rusty cage.

So it wasn’t until Soundgarden delved into the snarl and sludge of “Nothing to Say” – off its fledgling 1988 debut Screaming Life/Fopp album – that the band tapped into its nerve center, of biting Black Sabbath riffs hooked around a punk mindset, to the sound of a band formed by a city with a heavy heroin addiction and a weather forecast of perpetual rain. 

“Nothing to Say” stood out as the tipping point, and the band soon gained its momentum, mostly from a big section of Down on the Upside crowd pleasers that took the lion’s share of the spotlight during the latter part of the set – “Pretty Noose,” “Burden in My Hand,” “Ty Cobb,” “Blow Up the Outside World,” and the lesser known “Tighter and Tighter.”

Nearing the end of its North American tour dates, Soundgarden is in serious fighting form these days, a spectacle to watch from song to song, from individual members to the collective sum: Kim Thayil’s livewire guitar work amid Ben Sheperd’s hefty bass lines, all set against Matt Cameron’s furious backbeat. At 48, Chris Cornell’s voice is still (amazingly) in formidable shape, seeming to gain greater strength as the night wore on.

The band closed with a stunning five-song encore of classic tracks – “Black Hole Sun,” “Mailman,” “Hands All Over,” “Superunknown” – that brought the place to a fever pitch by the time it reached “Rusty Cage” to end the night. 

Cornell sang the final verse in a wailing falsetto that tested the limits of the house sound system, as the band pushed and pulled the song to its crashing close, finally driving home what it really means by King Animal.

 

Comments

I attended Soundgarden's sold-out show on the 13th in Oakland and I was stunned by how bad the sound was. To say that SG's sound mix was muddy is a vast understatement; it was singularly, reprehensibly awful, and whoever was responsible for that blasting maelstrom of sonic turd smoke ought to be condemned to listening to it for all eternity at the same ear-splitting level everyone in the audience was subjected to. This wasn't a one-off bad show, incidentally. I checked reviews from any number of sites and the overwhelming consensus is that SG's live performance sound has been, literally, painful since they got back together.The reviews note the absurd level of effect that accompanies Cornell's voice-making it virtually incomprehensible-as well as the overwhelming feedback that occurred throughout shows. Couple these problems with the overly loud guitars and drums and you've got a hot mess. Songs were often unidentifiable. And this reviewer thinks that the problem is the new material; all I can say is that Chuck must have been smoking a lot of the good stuff being passed around last night (yes, Chuck attended the previous night's show but there was no difference in the sound). The most disturbing aspect of the whole thing is that since this has been going on for years now it clearly isn't a mistake. In fact, it must be intentional. Whether it's to hide problems with Cornell's voice or something else, I don't know, but the King ain't down with it.

Posted by Elvis Presley on Feb. 14, 2013 @ 5:41 pm

The mix was equally bad in Seatte at their show at the Paramount on 2/7. Not sure what to think though, as the venue is known for having good sound acoustics and I attended the SG concert in NYC the day of the King Animal launch and Cornell's vocals were pristine!
A real shame, given the outstanding set list.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 14, 2013 @ 8:31 pm

I was at the SG show last night at the wiltern and found the mix to be incredibly inconsistent. some songs were amazing (slaves & bulldozers, outshined, spoon man, my wave to name a few) and some were a murky mess.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2013 @ 6:05 pm

was never good.

All those Seattle bands were second rate while Poison Idea, the Wipers, the Accused and a host of other NW bands were far better. Even the Mentors were more interesting than all that Junkie crap.

Posted by matlock on Feb. 14, 2013 @ 9:51 pm

I completely agree, the sound in Vancouver was HORRIBLE. The show was in a theatre well know for its acoustics. If a sound check was actually done then someone is deaf, if a sound check wasn't done then wtf ?

After the show I witness'd Chris and Kim bypassing no more than 11 kids waiting for an autograph without even a simple wave of the hand. Bad sound, bad attitude made it the first show I'd been to in years where I liked the band less afterwards than I did before, last time that happened was the The Cars concert in Montreal in the 80's.

At least I can say I saw them. :(

Posted by Ken P on Feb. 14, 2013 @ 11:14 pm

I don't know, someone ought to explore whether or not the band has their own sound crew or they are at the mercy of in-house engineers, especially before accusing the band of purposely distorting to hide Cornel's voice problems or other conspiracy theories.

I saw them in Chicago in 2011 and the sound was harsh, but then it was a 16,000 seat venue, a basketball arena and the acoustics were not great..so part of the band's goal is to punish you and maybe some of you are older and don't appreciate it, but i loved the Chicago venue anyways...

If they had a bad attitude, it has happened in the past this band was not mixed properly and that translates to some bad attitudes for guys that want to put on a good show....maybe they feel bad and maybe they know and maybe they don't have a say in how they are mixed, and a sound-check does not accommodate for the crowd noise and how loud Soundgarden fans are....that in and of itself in combination with the other will sometimes off-set the wonderful acoustics of a theatre venue....so, to the first point, Vancouver, Seattle and San Fran, Oakland, let's get the facts straight and find out whether or not they are mixing themselves or they are the mercy of poor in house engineers

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2013 @ 9:43 am

I was at the show on Tuesday the 12th, and I agree with this article's sentiment about the show really picking up about a third of the way through. I think the band was having trouble with the sound too (they kept talking to the roadies while playing- so something was going on), and Chris's voice started out rusty. This improved as the show went on.
As for the sound mix, I'm sympathetic to the comments here - but it's not the full story. I'm not sure I can explain this, but the sound was DRAMATICALLY different depending on where you were in the Fox theater. I started out right near the stage, and I couldn't hear a thing (ironically enough, it was worse with earplugs in - which is rare). Back in the theater (notably, near the sound board) the sound was great. I think what happens is the sound up front goes right up to that vaulted ceiling and everything gets lost in the mud.
You don't need to trust me on this - just snoop around the Internet and download the show, which you can find if you look for it. I'm pretty sure this is a soundboard feed, and it sounds great, as it did live...if you were in the right place.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2013 @ 2:31 pm

excellent write-up...
great use of metaphor without driving U.S. to hurl in the tepid toilet...
i was morose realizing i had just missed it thinking they were coming a little later...
but am thankful for the hand lifting the chin then the open palm smacking my forehead and bringing the realization much like that of an ex;
i didn't and don't miss anything.

hope they come back and play the fillmoreSF or greek ((( * )))

Posted by Guest on Feb. 28, 2013 @ 6:03 pm