Closing out a busy summer of live music before the kids go back to school, Cruzan presented another odd-on-paper pairing of bands and a packed house. At the halfway mark of their U.S. tour, Soundgarden and Nine Inch Nails (NIN) delivered as many goods as they could in their time-limited sets. A lot of favorites were performed, but as the math dictates, many were left out.
I always have a tough time envisioning the way these things get set up. It's hard to see Soundgarden relegated to "co-headliner," for instance. And after last night's performance, it's easy to see why Soundgarden's been a band (hiatus included) for 30 years. These guys are professional, and the level of gusto and chutzpah that they brought to the table would have you believe they were headlining a major festival in the '90s.
The one thing, though, that really made sense about this whole affair was the fact that Soundgarden's Superunknown and NIN's The Downward Spiral are celebrating 20 years of circulation, as they were both released on the same day back in 1994.
So this was more of a birthday for both bands in that sense.
The show opened with a spirited but largely unimpressive set by the Dillinger Escape Plan that was hindered mostly by the quality of the sound, the lack of an audience, and the choice of performing similar-sounding tunes in succession. If you weren't a fan before, chances are you probably won't be one now. Singer Greg Puciato was not in fecal-smearing mode and did his best entertain the small crowd that was there on time.
Soundgarden's set was notable for the energy the band brought to the stage. In all honesty, these songs sounded better live in 2014 than they did on disc back in '94. Chris Cornell's voice has not lost its range and was at his belting best. At 50, he sounds like 30 was yesterday. Kim Thayil was his usual stoic self, and aside from the bright white of his beard, his calm stage presence was a Zen-like serenity in the angry sea of riffage the man brings to the band. Touring drummer Matt Chamberlain did such a great job gelling with bassist Ben Shepherd, you'd almost forget that regular drummer and Pearl Jammer Matt Cameron is not on this tour.
Since the celebration was for Superunknown, the set list was heavily mandated by the album, with "Spoonman" being a huge crowd pleaser. "Black Hole Sun" got a good reaction, but as my friend pointed out, "He's singing it the way Dylan sings his hits now." You can expect that one will be left out very soon and become their "Jeremy." The band is bored with it, and I don't blame them. It makes sense, now that I think about it, that Soundgarden should take the middle spot, since their latest album was two years ago.
Trent Reznor might be the most relevant artist working in music today. The man is a natural force. He is an Oscar and Grammy winner. His recorded legacy as NIN alone is worthy of enviable postmortem longevity, and as such, the set was designed and built around him. After taking to the stage, everything began to coalesce with him as the focal energy. The stage accoutrements, moveable LED screens, were utilized with an urgent sense of minimalism and served more as shadowy backdrops to the action. You've gotta give credit to the casual impact of a stripped-down aesthetic.
With all of the movement and fluidity focused on him, Reznor and crew ripped into a set that made ample use of the band's large recorded arsenal and was demonstrative of at least seven albums. The underlining similarities that his songs share on an album-to-album basis offered the performance a nice wavelength. There was no way in hell that the group would satisfy every fan with only a little under an hour and a half at its disposal, but the career-spanning list included classics like "Head Like a Hole," "1,000,000," "March of the Pigs," "Wish," and "Gave Up."
The extended pause during "The Great Destroyer" was a nice touch, and he had some fun tweaking and freaking the back end of the track. Giving a full performance devoid of banter save for the polite "Thank you," NIN closed the night with a muscular rendition of "Hurt."
Did it perform "The Perfect Drug"? No, but the only bit of disappointment I felt was the exclusion of the Hesitation Marks' track "Everything," which has been my feel-good song of the past year.
Boasting albums that could be halfway through their college days and giving it 100 percent onstage was what made this a memorable concert-going experience. Soundgarden and NIN have managed to retain a vitality and relevancy that bands half their age will simply never attain. What an absolute treat it was to see these guys still on top of their respective games.