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Music Review

After all these years, Soundgarden’s grunge holds up

Soundgarden (performing in Germany last year) played hits and obscure songs in its 2½-hour show at the Orpheum.

Caroline Seidel/dapd/file 2012

Soundgarden (performing in Germany last year) played hits and obscure songs in its 2½-hour show at the Orpheum.

Soundgarden front-loaded its 2½-hour show Sunday at the Orpheum with big numbers, digging deeper into its catalog as the concert moved along. It was a big, weird sprawl of heavy, trippy rock unencumbered by expectations and ended up doing more for Soundgarden’s legacy than a more polished show ever could have.

After all, the scene that Soundgarden helped define was called “grunge” for a reason.

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Singer Chris Cornell, guitarist Kim Thayil, bass player Ben Shepherd, and drummer Matt Cameron took small steps in 2010 to relaunch Soundgarden after its 1997 collapse, and by the end of last year they were making major strides with the new “King Animal” album and sustained touring.

“Searching With my Good Eye Closed” began the evening with Soundgarden, and that slow-burn intro let the group ease into a groove that coiled as the band worked through 20 songs toward the brutish daze of “4th of July,” which ended the regular set.

The familiar “Spoonman,” “Jesus Christ Pose,” and “Outshined” arrived early and affirmed everyone’s talents intact. Thayil and Cornell took off on little tangents while Cameron and Shepherd supplied a heavy swing. Though favoring lean, compact songs, Soundgarden always was diverse, churning bits of psychedelia, blues, metal, and punk into its barbed anthems, all of which came through just fine in concert.

Some of those textures were even more pronounced, especially during a mid-show turn into “Ugly Truth,” “Drawing Flies,” and “Hunted Down,” early material that sounded richer in more experienced hands while at the same time keeping these older dudes connected to the darker impulses at the heart of Soundgarden’s pre-hits era.

While Soundgarden touched on all of its releases, “Superunknown,” “Badmotorfinger,” and the new album supplied the bulk of the concert repertoire. New songs “By Crooked Steps” and “Non-State Actor” jelled well with the crazed glint of “Fell on Black Days” and “Head Down.”

The Black Sabbath homage “Incessant Mace” from 1988 was a nice revival in the encore selections. The grim finale “Slaves and Bulldozers” made clear that Soundgarden is not just back but also still authentic.

Scott McLennan can be reached at smclennan1010@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @ScottMcLennan1.
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