“I only ever really wanted a break,” Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell sings on “Been Away Too Long,” the lead track from “King Animal,” his band’s first new album since the Clinton Administration. Dude, not allowed any more. You take it way too far.
"Been Away" showed up about midway through the seminal grunge band's epic Thursday night performance at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre, the first half of a two-night stand that will wrap up tonight. The song was one of many reminders of time and potential wasted between the quartet's late '90s breakup and its surprise comeback, as “Nudedragons,” in 2010. Ah, the hits they could have had. Instead, they went AWOL for 14 years and left us at the mercy of Nickelback. Jerks.
Soundgarden - also guitarist Kim Thayil, bassist Ben Shepherd and drummer Matt Cameron – had no opener and played for two hours and change. Their set was both grunge nostalgiafest - they went all the way back to “Hunted Down,” their debut single for Sub Pop from 1987 - and a testament to the band's lasting relevance; these guys still rock harder than 90 percent of the milquetoast clogging up the rock charts these days. And few heavy bands craft cuts that are so melodic and stick-in-your-head hooky.
I posted the full set list earlier. But highlights included the sludgy, once again timely “Gun,” the darkly bombastic “Day I Tried to Live” and the frantic, bird-flipping “Ty Cobb.” A cameo by Mike McCready on “Tighter and Tighter” won't do much to dispel the rumors of a Soundgarden-Pearl Jam megatour that have been floating around the Internet. But the athletic, hard-hitting Cameron looked up to challenge of double duty in both his bands. Well, all three of his bands if they throw in some Temple of the Dog. Which, you know, they'd have to.
It was a satisfying if not perfect show. Sound quality varied depending on where you stood in the room. And in lieu of weaker cuts from the new disc, like “Taree” and “Worse Dreams,” I would have liked to have heard “Burden in My Hand” and “Pretty Noose,” both on the official set list but skipped. But their head banging set closer “Beyond the Wheel” was so forebodingly grimy that all could be forgiven. Shepherd flung his axe and the formidable foursome made their exit. Their work was done.
Knights of the Soundtable, prepare to be rocked again Friday night.