Night Two of “An Evening with Soundgarden” at the Riviera Theatre
By Jon Allegretto

The Riviera Theatre in Uptown Chicago hosted night two of “An Evening with Soundgarden” on Wednesday night. The sold-out audience consisted of rock fans mostly in their mid-twenties to fifties and if you came to meet chicks, you had your work cut out for you. Fashionably late by a half hour, the band took the stage amid a low bass rumble from the PA system at just the right frequency to tickle the ear but not rattle the guts. Soft-glowing violet-blue lights scanned and glided around the stage and the crowd. The familiar aroma of pot filled the vicinity, as if dad had just left the room and it was safe to proceed with the celebration.

The band kicked off their heavy riff-laden, two-hour performance with “Searching with My Good Eye Closed” off of their 1991 release Badmotorfinger, “Spoonman,” and arguably the most energetic and impressive tune of the evening, “Jesus Christ Pose.” Somewhat surprisingly the band included nine tunes from their newest release King Animal out of a 25-song set list. Vocalist/guitarist Chris Cornell introduced one of these, an uncharacteristic-sounding pop/rock narration about half-assing called “Halfway There,” by saying, “There aren’t many of us that go all the way with anything.”

Although the band had plenty of room to move about on a stage virtually free of equipment, each member kept relatively calm and mostly within his section while exhibiting a high caliber of musicianship. “Chicago is our home away from home,” Cornell later said, taking a moment to brush his wavy locks from his face. “Half of us are from Chicago. [Soundgarden guitarist] Kim is from here.”

Throughout the show a backdrop projected imagery of wintery scenes, random buildings and ruins, all with mild animation. The crowd was calm yet clearly excited and upbeat. It’s a lot harder to mosh to odd time signatures and clearly many in attendance had flat out just outgrown any of that anyway. Riviera Theatre bartender Ron Bay said it was one of the best performances he’d seen in ten years working at the venue - a rare sentiment to hear from an employee, many of whom tire easily even during the most impressive performances. “And their sound engineer really knows what he’s doing,” he said.

Standouts numbers included “Burden in My Hand,” “Live to Rise,” “Head Down,” and “Blow Up The Outside World,” the latter of which even pulled a smile from guitarist Kim Thayil’s often solemn facial expression. The band later ended their 4-song encore with “Slaves & Bulldozers” before engulfing the entire theater in an unrelenting swell of distorted guitar and bass noise that mimicked the sound of a toppling building in an earthquake. Thayil laid his guitar on his amplifier as if conducting surgery on the instrument as feedback swirled while Ben Shepherd chucked his bass guitar through the air, smashing it on the ground next to Matt Cameron’s drum riser.  Rock. And. Roll.

For a band that spent 15 years apart these guys perform and sound as if no time had passed at all with the exception of Cornell’s thoroughly road-worked vocal cords. That’s not to say that he didn’t sound and perform superbly. He just sounds different. But that happens to many vocalists as they age (just listen to Axl these days, sheesh!). And man, he can still hit some of the greatest highs and growls in rock today. They just sound like he spent some time swallowing razor blades.