At first blush, there would not seem to be much in common between Soundgarden, archetypically heavy grunge titans, and Nine Inch Nails, who brought industrial music about as close to the mainstream as it is ever going to get, beyond a vague categorization as “alt-rock.” But both bands wallowed in arena-sized self-loathing, inadvertently provided songs for Johnny Cash to transform during his career’s final act, and, most important to the coheadlining tour that brought them to the Xfinity Center Tuesday night, are celebrating the 20th anniversaries of their magnum opuses.
There were a few hints that time had passed for Soundgarden: Ben Shepherd’s bass only hung down by his mid-thigh, rather than his knees, and Chris Cornell sang a few high notes that he once screamed. But the band did a remarkable job of acting as though “Superunknown” was released just yesterday. And it was not just the set list, even though all but three songs over the course of 80 minutes came from that album and its predecessor “Badmotorfinger.” The band’s elephantine lumber remained in sharp focus from start to finish.
A lot of that had to do with Matt Chamberlain, who seemed to be the only one not moving in slow motion through the clobbering ruckus. He drummed through tricky time changes in “Outshined,” “Rusty Cage,” and others as though they were simple beats and hit with such force that his thunderous rolls were deep and heavy enough without even Kim Thayil’s strangled, kaleidoscopic guitar leads. But whether on the fast, tumbling “Jesus Christ Pose” or spacious crawl of “Like Suicide,” Soundgarden once more roared as one.
Where Soundgarden was about wallowing, Nine Inch Nails was about catharsis, frontman Trent Reznor working out his demons on a public stage. And as he raged through his self-flagellating missives from “The Downward Spiral,” Reznor seemed to have long since found a healthy balance. He was tightly wound, with energy to burn, but it was directed outward like a boxing workout. He bobbed and weaved around a stage that switched from minimalism to video overload.
The band matched his energy. Ilan Rubin’s chaotic drums helped “March Of The Pigs” sound like it was falling apart and taking anything in its path with it, while the corrosive guitars hit like sledgehammers dipped in acid. “Wish” and “1,000,000” were both relentless, whooshing with gale force. And even the drumless “Disappointed” throbbed with a burbling, high-velocity electronic beat.
Correction: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this review incorrectly listed the name of the drummer for Soundgarden.