Soundgarden at Bayou Music Center, 5/24/2013

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Photos by Groovehouse

Soundgarden
Bayou Music Center
May 24, 2013

See more of Soundgarden and their long-suffering local fans in our slideshow.

Grunge sounded old even when it was new. This misbegotten mutation of metal and alt-rock tapped into such primordial angst and soul-suffering it seemed world-weary even as bands like Soundgarden acted as the genre's midwife in the late '80s and early '90s.

Today it sounds pretty much the same, so even after a layoff of approaching 20 years, Soundgarden still stands as one of the finer practitioners of this unwieldy, punishing music. Friday night at Bayou Music Center, with no opener and a minimum of fanfare, the quartet fought off a few stray cobwebs to deliver two nigh-pulverizing hours of music that proved "Been Away Too Long" is more than just a song title from their new album.

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Of the "Big Four" bands to emerge from Seattle about 25 years ago (sorry, Mudhoney), Soundgarden weren't prone to the same pernicious appetites that felled Nirvana and Alice In Chains, and their music had a much more subterranean tilt than Pearl Jam's arena-chasing anthems. Their 1994 album Superunknown made them stars anyway -- it was too good not to -- but something about the spotlight didn't agree with them, and they broke up not that long after Down On the Upside was released two years later. Then, first with 2010's career-spanning Telephantasm and now with last year's all-original King Animal, Soundgarden returned from hibernation almost like they had been preserved in amber.

Strangely enough these days, the band seems to be back because the members have realized that they still enjoy making music together, and that they still have something to say. The thickly textured material on King Animal doesn't quite approach the same pop heights as the great Beatlesque Superunknown singles, but the new songs' dogged tenacity and weatherbeaten, naturalistic imagery go hand in hand. Coupled with the wintry forest landscapes of Friday's accompanying video projections, any King Animal tune the band played Friday would be ideal for the next season of Game of Thrones.

Saying hello with "Spoonman" before "Jesus Christ Pose" immediately launched the audience into a hang-on-for-dear-life vortex of Matt Cameron's battering-ram drums and Kim Thayil's unrelenting guitar squalls, Soundgarden explored some of the darker corners of their catalog all the way back to "Hunted Down" from 1987's Screaming Life EP. Until the very end, this was no singles-only affair; the set list was studded with deep, deep cuts like Badmotorfinger's "Room a Thousand Years Wide." "Rhinosaur" all but loosened my teeth, and by Telephantasm's "Black Rain" the ol' Bayou Music Center was feeling pretty airless.

Riffs, they had riffs too, with lots of jagged edges: the new "By Crooked Steps," a teasing "My Wave," or the nailgun that was "Ty Cobb." The sphinx-like Thayil is no showman, but his stoic demeanor and minimal movements (a Townshend-ish half-windmill or two was about it) made a stark contrast to the torrents of sound he was conjuring. After sparring with his amp for some reason during "Jesus Christ Pose," bassist Ben Shepherd made his notes throb like helicopter blades until it seemed like he was the one supplying what melody there was amid Thayil and Cameron's maelstrom.

Location Info

Venue

Map

Bayou Music Center

520 Texas Ave., Houston, TX

Category: Music

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7 comments
108rsguitarsmhp
108rsguitarsmhp

Anyone a huge fan of Kim Thayil? He is featured in the new book, 108 Rock Star Guitars! Like the book's FaceBook page for more updates on Kim and the book.Or follow @108RSGuitars

_sid.
_sid.

Hmm, my post was lost, lets try again.

Interesting observation about fatigue, it had not occured to me until I read this. Quite impressed with the song selection the early punk EP songs, and the deep cuts that show a direct line to their Zeppelin-roots. I thanked the FSM that he did not break out that awful James Bond ballad, and think they had fun... but...

... overall, where the band played well, the venue's soundsystem was once again horrendous.

Up until about 10:45, the voice was lost behind the drums, with bass and guitar an after thought - it was as if they were all only running through the same mid-range. To complicate this further, sound was running through the PA system giving a distorted echo with no range or tracking at all - all the sound was at front of the PA. About the time, the band pulled out the pop tunes, they finally brought the voice up to the front, and layered the drums into the bass - but the guitar, except for the anticipated solos, were completly lost. It was a one dimensional sound.

Bayou, (and in fact Cynthia Woods), needs to do something about this. One can blame poor advance from the soundboard team; but despite this - the venue just doesnt have a soundsystem expected for the price of the ticket. HoB was struggling with this for years - and has now straightened it out - Fitz and Warehouse optimize their space aurally. Its about time the bands complianed or chose another venue.

andypuls
andypuls

2nded on the camera phone people.  Take a few pictures, maybe record a song, then put the goddamn thing up, you don't need 8 pictures of every song.   Its rude as shit to everyone else around you, on par with comedian heckling. 

Creg Lovett
Creg Lovett

A hard out at 11:30 would explain the crappy ending we experienced at Austin Music Hall Saturday night as well.

Andrew Karnavas
Andrew Karnavas

seemed more like an old muscle car that's been painstakingly restored and made street legal again -- the paint may be chipped in a spot or two, but what's under the hood can still blow almost anything else off the road."

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