with Nine Inch Nails and The Dillinger Escape Plan

Cruzan Amphitheater / West Palm Beach, FL • 8.10.14

Two shirtless 40-somethings, proudly sporting their collections of jailhouse body art sit together in the “Lawn Section” while swapping spirited stories of their fondest Lollapalooza memories, as fresh-faced and seemingly well-adjusted young people parade from the concession stand to their seats, adorned in the Kurt Cobain T-shirts they purchased recently from Hot Topic – welcome to the grunge era, part deux – 2014!

The pungent aroma of ripe B.O. mixed with freshly lit marijuana permeated the Cruzan Amphitheater just before 8PM, as the enormous black kabuki dropped and the authentic rock band took the stage. But in stark contrast to the angry noise mongers and the computerized industrial combo also appearing on tonight’s triple-bill “music” event, this would be the only collective to play actual songs.

“West Palm Beach! It’s fucking hot!” frontman Chris Cornell proclaimed to the sweaty sea of 12,000+ as Soundgarden crashed out of its opening tune, “Searching with My Good Eye Closed.” Dressed in a form-fitting white V-neck and black trousers, the iconic poster boy of the ’90s alternative rock scene would serve as a charismatic ringleader – boldly “preaching” his “Gospel” throughout the band’s high-octane performance. Referring to his group’s chart-topping 1994 release Superunknown, Cornell announced in short order, “This next one is from an album that just turned 20,” as he led his crew into the classic, “Spoonman.”

Along with co-founding lead guitarist Kim Thayil and perennial members, bassist Ben Shepherd and drummer Matt Cameron, the band unleashed a mighty 75-minute onslaught – firing off hit song after hit song, including “Outshined,” Rusty Cage,” “Jesus Christ Pose,” “My Wave,” “Fell on Black Days” and “Black Hole Sun.”

The audio mix was delightfully powerful – fat, loud and crystal clear. The show also was a spectacular-looking treat to behold, as the stage became a kaleidoscope of vivid, beaming color.

Although the band played masterfully overall, it often sounded as if perhaps somebody was a bit out of sync with the rest of the band. And while I certainly never would suggest that any member of Soundgarden ever has actually taken mind-expanding drugs, I will say that it sounded like one of those four boys may have smoked a hefty-sized bowl just prior to show time.

As one could have predicted, the August Florida skies did in fact open eventually, and the 8PM thunderstorm threatened to put a damper on the outdoor festivities in more ways than one. Fans seated in uncovered portions of the venue became immediately soaked, while a power outage literally brought the show to a complete, albeit brief halt during Cornell’s compelling intro to “Superunknown.”

My suspicions are always aroused anytime I hear any rock star claiming to do anything, “just for the fans.” However, Cornell devoted a healthy slice of his banter to assuring his flock that the summer-long union of Soundgarden and Nine Inch Nails was designed for that very purpose – “just for the fans.” But with ticket prices ranging from $36 to upwards of $200 each – and with approximately 19,000 tickets available to sell, one might question whether his seemingly sincere statement was entirely forthright.

As for the music, Soundgarden delivered – in spades. The songs were all top-shelf classics and the musicianship was superb – particularly Chris Cornell’s Rob Halford-like vocal gymnastics on 1988’s “Beyond the Wheel.” And just getting an up-close gander at Kim Thayil’s collection of vintage Gibson guitars practically was worth the price of admission.

In sum, Soundgarden remains a top-drawing, world-class rock band that clearly still has a considerable amount of free gig space left on the ol’ hard drive.

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