Soundgarden Live in Oakland

Fox Theater, Oakland, CA
February 13, 2013

By Dan Wall

I wish I could tell you that Soundgarden are still ripping it up like the band did back in 1991 at the Warfield Theater in San Francisco, a Saturday night show that is often mentioned as one of the best the band ever did. But the boys aren’t.

I wish I could tell you that the group was out doing a greatest hits show with power and precision that matched the best of its live output back in the heyday. But the boys aren’t.

Heck, I wish I could tell you that Soundgarden was playing an interesting set (some nights the band does, sometimes it doesn’t) of hits and album tracks that meshed well together. But the boys aren’t. (I did not include the set list here, because any real fan should go online and checkout all of the set lists from this tour, because some are great, and some are just okay-like the one performed here in Oakland).

What I can tell you is Soundgarden showed up in Oakland looking pretty much like Soundgarden should look and sound like in 2013, and if not for the spotty set list, might have played a real ripper. But at this point, I still find it to be only a mildly entertaining show by a middle-aged grunge band that once or twice blew my mind on a live stage back in the 90’s.

Lead singer Chris Cornell still has the banshee wail and hair of a rock star, but for some reason his stage presence was greatly lacking on this night. Though never a Steven Tyler-type while leading this band, Cornell hardly said a word aside from “thanks” after each song, and didn’t introduce many of the obscure tracks that dotted the set. His voice is still strong but it started to falter a bit at the end, which is where the band places most of its bigger songs, unfortunately. (Except for the band’s biggest, “Black Hole Sun,” which wasn’t played at all).

As far as guitarist Kim Thayil, bassist Ben Shepherd and drummer Matt Cameron are concerned, nothing has really changed as far as musical presence or looks (aside from shorter hair and a few pounds) go. Thayil can still play a mean riff, while Shepherd and Cameron form one of the heaviest rhythm sections around.

What this show really lacked was fire, the kind that burned for this band at the afore-mentioned Warfield show 22 years ago, a storming two hours of alternative metal that had 2200 fans in an uproar from first song to last. There were times during the current show when Soundgarden had it going on (the first five songs, which included “Jesus Christ Pose,” “Let Me Drown,” “Gun,” “By Crooked Steps” and “Outshined” seem to have the quartet on the right track), but more often than not, it was obscure album cuts, B-sides and newer pieces that just sort of laid there until the next good song could be played.

Now, do I expect Soundgarden to look and sound like it did back during its star run, when “Badmotorfinger” was tearing up the charts, and the group had the ability to turn an entire floor into a raging, seething mosh pit? No, I don’t, but I did think that this show would be more exciting and the set list would light a fire under the band.

I wish I would have liked this show more than I did, but I didn’t.