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Review: Soundgarden, Melbourne

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Festival Hall, Melbourne
24 February 2015
Review by Rod Whitfield
Photos by Matt Allan

This Soundgarden sidewave was an ‘evening with’ type of deal. So it was well over two hours of ‘Garden variety power and passion, and this was lapped up by the very near capacity crowd at this, one of the grand old dames of Melbourne live music. Interesting mix in the crowd too. Lots of rock loving, Soundwave-attending youngsters but also probably just as many, if not more, people who would have been these kids’ age when Soundgarden were at their peak in the early to mid 90s. I certainly fall into the latter category…

Loud, powerful, and everything could be heard beautifully. It was also more of a visual spectacular than you would have imagined for a band such as Soundgarden, who were known for a slightly more minimalist approach back in the 90s. They employed quite a spectacular light show and their conceptual rear screen projection segments were quite eye popping. This was a BIG rock show.
The longer set format allowed for a pretty stunning setlist too. They covered pretty much everything you could have wanted. And there were highlights aplenty. ‘Jesus Christ Pose’ was frenetic and scary. Chris Cornell struggled ever so slightly on the relentless high notes on this one, but that’s kinda to be expected. The guy is 50 now (although he looks 35), and that must be a damnably tough song to sing.
By contrast, ‘Like Suicide’ was snaky and moody, but built beautifully to titanic climax, and Cornell was right back in form. The massive hit ‘Black Hole Sun’ was the huge crowd favourite that you expect, although it must be said that ‘Spoonman’ received arguably the best reaction from the enthralled crowd. ‘Been Away Too Long’ was driving and swaggering, and possibly my own favourite Soundgarden song, the title track to 1994’s ‘Superunknown’ album, simply slayed the audience.
Being hyper-critical for a moment, from my own perspective they actually played most of the songs I wanted to hear in the first half to two thirds of the show, so there was a very slight late set flat patch. However, they revived things in no uncertain terms with the freight train that is ‘Rusty Cage’, the final song of the set proper.
The band briefly left the stage before being howled back for more by the crowd. And more they received, with lengthy versions of ‘Limo Wreck’, and ‘Slaves & Bulldozers’, the feedback and guitar noise drenched ending of which lasted for probably more than five minutes.
This was well over two hours worth of dark, dredgy, sweat soaked grunge/alternative heavy rock, and the huge crowd lapped up each and every second. Aside from the rather difficult ‘Jesus Christ Pose’, the ageless Cornell was in excellent voice and Matt Cameron’s drums sounded enormous. It also felt like a bit of a ‘moment in time’ type of show. Soundgarden haven’t been regular visitors to our shores over the last twenty five years or so, I had never seen them myself, at least partly because they split up for more than 10 years during that period. But you never know when a band like this will ever return to Australia, if at all. So it was sensational to be a part of it this time.

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