Two days into its first tour in 15 years, Soundgarden hit its stride on Friday (July 8) at Newark, N.J.'s Prudential Center by giving the mellow crowd exactly what it came for: dark, epic power to get buzzed by.
Back in its '90s heyday, the Seattle quartet inspired a raucous, churning moshpit every night, but Friday in Newark, the reunited band's heavy, driving favorites -- 1991's "Rusty Cage" and 1994's "Spoonman" among them -- produced an audience reaction no less rapt. By the time they blasted through opener "Searching With My Good Eye Closed," the packed general admission pit mashed against the front barricade was blooming with pot smoke and reverent fans headbanging in slow motion.
While a few crowdsurfers did eventually ride the pit during the course of Soundgarden's two-and-a-half-hour set, the mood had been set. Eerie backdrops of burned out vintage planes, cracked roads to nowhere against nuclear-colored skies, and skulls with blinking third-eyes, throbbed along with the band's 22-song assault.
Frontman Chris Cornell, working out his signature vocal arias, naturally led the charge, leading full-arena sing-alongs on "Blow Up The Outside World" and "Burden In My Hand." But Cornell was just one-fourth of Soundgarden's well-machined sound. His bandmates' enormous, grinding propulsion provided apt counterpoint to his tenor wail. Bearded and standing stock-still, guitarist Kim Thayil rocked the drop-d dirges ("Slaves And Bulldozers," "4th Of July") with mastery so assured he didn't need to move anything but his hands. Drummer Matt Cameron, who has been in Pearl Jam since shortly after Soundgarden disbanded in 1997, deftly drove the band through the songs' many time-signature and temporal shifts, shining particularly on percussion-centric tracks like "Jesus Christ Pose" and "Face Polution," both from 1991. Bassist Ben Shepherd, meanwhile, held down the low end, playfully taunting and interacting with the fans on his side of the stage.
If you detect a certain crowd-pleasing bent to the setlist, you aren't mistaken. The four-piece came armed largely with the most familiar of its tunes from the most megaselling of its albums. Aside from 2010 single "Black Rain," Soundgarden treated Newark to seven songs each from 1991's "Badmotorfinger" (including "Outshined" and "Rusty Cage") and 1994's "Superunknown" (including "Fell On Black Days" and the title track). So it's little wonder that no matter who had smoked and who hadn't, every person leaving the arena into the rainy New Jersey night was in a good, ear-ringing daze.