Soundgarden at the 1stBank Center, 5-28-13 (photos, review)

“If we f*** up, it’s because we’re really high and having fun,” said Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell in a play on the standard altitude jokes in Denver. This was moments after Cornell had stalked out into the audience on the front PA stacks like a pro during a fierce and fiery “Outshined” at the 1stBank Center Tuesday night.


When the best male pipes were being handed out, baby Cornell must have kicked aside several people both in front of and behind him and taken more than his fair share. Even though his voice cracked a couple of times in the thin dry air (and possibly from the attrition of touring), Cornell still sings rings around almost any other male vocalist out there, no matter the genre. The acoustics at 1stBank were a little rough at times, as it could be hard to make out what Cornell was singing, but just hearing Cornell hold a long, raucous screaming note more than made up for it.

Back at the start of the ’90s, when the mighty Seattle quartet of Alice in Chains, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden rose up to slay the hair metal dragon, it was Soundgarden that hewed closest to the metal genre of any of its contemporaries. Nirvana veered into thrash punk. Alice in Chains built melody and harmony into its hard rock fury, and Pearl Jam built on the classic rock foundation so ably laid by Led Zeppelin and the Who. Meanwhile, Soundgarden didn’t sound out of place with metal titans Metallica on the 1996 Lollaplooza tour (at the insistence of Metallica). Live, Soundgarden’s detuned songs and alternate time signatures create a blend of bombast and thunder that shook the walls of the 1stBank Center.

Soundgarden got into it early, launching with a brilliant “Spoonman” that had Cornell doing double duty on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, while guitarist Kim Thayil riffed in time with Cornell over drummer Matt Cameron’s thunderous pounding. Cornell still had no difficulty hitting the high notes early.

Almost a third of the setlist consisted of material from the band’s most recent CD, “King Animal” including a strong take on “By Crooked Steps” on which Cornell ended with a cool echo effect on his guitar that rang through the rafters.

While the bombast was in force for much of the night, the band veered into more melodic territory at times, such as on the haunting “The Day I Tried to Live,” which started slowly over Ben Shepherd’s hooky bass line before exploding into the soaring chorus.

Perhaps the highlight of the night was “Never the Machine Forever,” on which Cameron and Shepherd synched in a groove that sounded dark and foreboding, furious and frenetic, while Cornell’s trademark wail lifted the song into overdrive.

On the first encore, “My Wave,” Cornell introduced a “super fan” who had talked with the band earlier in the day, and Cornell let the guy live out a dream by having him jam on guitar. The show closed with a feedback wail from Thayil on the tail end of “Slaves and Bulldozers” that seemed a perfect close to a great rock show.

Spoonman, Gun, By Crooked Steps, Rhinosaur, Outshined, Worse Dreams, Been Away Too Long, The Day I Tried to Live, Non-State Actor, Loud Love, Eyelid’s Mouth, Head Down, Never the Machine Forever, Blind Dogs, Taree, Fell on Black Days, Blow up the Outside World, Rusty Cage, E: My Wave, Slaves and Bulldozers

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Candace Horgan is a Denver freelance writer/photographer and regular contributor to Reverb. When not writing and shooting, she plays guitar and violin in Denver band Black Postcards.

Seth McConnell is a member of YourHub at The Denver Post and a regular contributor to Reverb.