Soundgarden brings killer riffs and a sound mix from hell to Vancouver

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photo by rebecca blissett

ORIGINALLY POSTED ON STRAIGHT.COM, FEB. 10, 2013

By Steve Newton

Vancouver’s Soundgarden fans had real reason to rejoice in 2010 when the classic lineup of singer Chris Cornell, guitarist Kim Thayil, bassist Ben Shepherd, and drummer Matt Cameron reunited after 12 years apart, and then announced a summer arena tour that included a stop at Rogers Arena on July 30, 2011.

But the excitement level for those same fans reached new heights in 2012 when the quartet—in the wake of releasing King Animal, its first album in 16 years—lined up a winter soft-seater tour that would include a stop at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on February 10, 2013. Not surprisingly, the show was an instant sellout.

Considering how impressive they were in the home of the Canucks, I for one was psyched about seeing Soundgarden perform in the much more intimate confines of the Queen E. My only concern—after checking on setlist.fm website—was that the band hadn’t included “Outshined” in its set two nights prior at the Paramount Theatre, in its Seattle hometown. I mean, could I really get the most out of a Soundgarden gig without hearing my favourite tune of theirs?

As it turned out, the band did play “Outshined” last night—along with my other fave Soundgarden track, “Fell on Black Days”. There was no problem with the song selection at all, in my books. The only problem was with the sound mix, which started off atrocious and stayed that way for the entire two-hour show.

The acoustics in the QE can be pretty great, but apparently not so much for hard-rock acts. Subpar sound was evident when Chickenfoot played the venue last summer, only it wasn’t half as bad as it was last night. Where I was sitting Soundgarden’s guitar, bass, and drums coagulated into one hurtin’, muddy mess, while Cornell’s lyrics were indecipherable throughout. You just don’t expect a band to sound way worse in a theatre than it did in a hockey rink.

Maybe I happened to get stuck in a particularly poor-sounding location, because it wasn’t as if the crowd fled in droves from the racket—or formed a posse to lynch the offending soundman. They held their ground and cheered every song, though not with any rabid enthusiasm.

As well as tracks from King Animal—including the rifftastic opener, “Been Away Too Long”—Cornell and Co. focused on material from the top-selling ’90s albums Badmotorfinger (“Jesus Christ Pose”, “Rusty Cage”, “Outshined”) and the five-times-platinum Superunknown (“Fell on Black Days”, “Black Hole Sun”).

There wasn’t much verbal communication between the band and the audience, which was fine with me, since I’m from the “less talkin’, more rockin'” school of thought. But a bit more in the way of visuals would have been nice, as it seemed like a lot of the lights that were set up were hardly even used. The most exciting thing that happened on-stage was when one overzealous fan crawled up and leapt around a bit before being tackled by a roadie and dragged away.

I hate to say it, ’cause I admire the group, but judging by Sunday night, Soundgarden has fallen on black days itself.

Or maybe it was just the soundman.

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