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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Soundgarden at the Olympic : Patience Is Its Own Reward

July 19, 1994|STEVE HOCHMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell looked anything but patient as he paced like a caged tiger Sunday on the stage of the refurbished Grand Olympic Auditorium.

He pounded his fist on his guitar while singing songs whose tones ranged from petulant ("Mailman," which he said was about "killing your boss") to spiritually anxious ("Superunknown"). And later he leaped into the audience to go after some guy annoying him with a flashlight.

Yet the unstated message of the concert was 180 degrees opposite of that scene, and of the mood of the youthful audience the band represents: Patience pays off.

While the Seattle scene that Soundgarden comes from has been marked by the "instant" blockbusters of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains, this tortoise of a band has steadily evolved and matured into a powerful, eloquent, first-class act. With the recent album "Super-unknown" having sold 2 million copies and now residing in the Top 10, Sunday's show had the feeling of a long-awaited coming-out party.

As it has been since the band emerged in the late '80s--well before its Northwest comrades--Cornell's confident command was the most compelling element of the show. But now the rest of the package has risen to his level.

The songs from "Superunknown," which dominated the concert, are hypnotic, forceful blends of undulating riffs and mystical imagery, covering an impressive range of moods.

And the tight yet raw playing of guitarist Kim Thayil, bassist Ben Shepherd and drummer Matt Cameron is finally transcending the blatant Zeppelin-Sabbath roots, complementing Cornell's rock-operatic wail and charged presence.

*

The secret of the show, though, was how Cornell embodied that tricky man-child paradox of youthful frustration and mature control. The nearly two-hour set was preceded by a short film showing a boy cycling on his Stingray through a mystical world directed by strange gods. In the show, Cornell was both that confused boy, trying to fathom the forces that shape his life, and a rock god looked to for answers by his fans.

It's a timeless dichotomy, the very stuff on which rock 'n' roll was founded. But Cornell at his best makes it his own.

For those who have watched as the band slowly, steadily realized its potential over the years, it was worth the wait.

Patience will also be required if the Olympic, hosting its first rock concert in years, is to become a regular venue. The 6,000-capacity room offers both reserved seating and an open floor for the hyperkinetic moshers.

But on Sunday the sound was muddy and booming, and the staff seemed at a loss directing people to their seats.

Second-billed Rev. Horton Heat's hyper-speed Texas psychobilly proved impressive for his fleet-fingered guitar work, but he and his two band mates lacked the variety or originality to be anything more than a curiosity.

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