Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden are better than ever, especially live
It would be easy to dismiss a show like this as something aging fans of '90s alternative rock take their kids to. But Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden still have plenty of intellect and challenging music. And opener Oneohtrix Point Never, an experimental electronic and ambient artist, likely challenged the sensibilities of more than a handful of people in attendance.
What the show proved is that bands that slightly pre-date the alternative rock era and continued through its eras collapse still have an enthusiastic audience. They can also still produce new work that pushes their existing artistic boundaries.
That Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden put out some of their best work in the last two years instead of relying on a misguided sense of nostalgia could be seen in the performances.
Long before the sun set, if you were entangled in the less-than-fantastic parking situation, you could hear Oneohtrix Point Never's music echoing off the walls of the venue like somniloquy of a sea god -- deep tones and finely textured white noise with slow-building melodies. But inside the venue proper, Daniel Lopatain's projections gave that music a more mathematical analog of geometric shapes and summer-colored hues. His combination of analog and digital sounds probably left a few people unsatisfied and confused but he found some new, or perhaps even existing, fans who showered him with cheers when he shut down his gear and waved to the audience with a smile.
Since reforming in 2010, Soundgarden may not be as wild as they were in, say, the late '80s. But the group just sounds better and even more confident in its powers these days. Last night, longtime drummer Matt Cameron wasn't on stage, as he's now touring with Pearl Jam. Instead it was Matt Chamberlain (who played in Pearl Jam himself, several years back, as well as in Tori Amos' band and with the house band for Saturday Night Live). There's no replacing a drummer as unique and talented as Cameron. However, Chamberlain sure seemed to have Cameron's style down and played with the kind of finesse and power required in the unusual dynamics of Soundgarden's songwriting.
Chris Cornell was chattier than usual and engaged the audience a bit while making lighthearted, self-deprecating jokes including how he forgot whether or not "I Awake" was on Louder Than Love or another album. He said he always forgot which album songs were from now, having just turned fifty the night. If he's old, may we all live to be that spry and emotionally charged. Ben Shepherd tried to get the audience to sing happy birthday to Cornell but no one took the lead and he expressed his disappointment in no uncertain terms. Moments later some people tried but it devolved into an incoherent mess that never resolved. Better luck next time, Denver.
All such interludes aside, the band seemed to be in a good mood and the normally stoic Kim Thayil cracked a smile toward the end of "Jesus Christ Pose." He looked as though amused by something he saw and looked to his bandmates for confirmation on whether they noticed the same thing.
Though mostly sticking to the hits you'd hope to see at the show, some surprises, like the rarely performed, and aforementioned, "I Awake" and "Let Me Drown" provided some nice nods for longtime fans. In the background, a colorful series of projections ran, including the silhouette of the antlered woman, streaming weatherscapes and, with "Slaves & Bulldozers," a flight of bombers coming forth from the screen in red and black.
Continue reading for a recap of Nine Inch Nails and set lists