Photo Credit: Matthew Speck
18 Jul 2011: Red Rocks Amphitheatre Morrison, CO
In the dead of summer, getting out of the city heat and up into Morrison, Colorado, home of Red Rocks Amphitheatre, is always a treat. To have the opportunity to see one of the few remaining relevant acts of the ‘90s there, the one and only Soundgarden, is another venture entirely. The crowd was an interesting mix of young and old, everybody from high schoolers to baby boomers, and the show was most definitely sold out. With supporting act The Mars Volta, Soundgarden were sure to bring the heat.
When The Mars Volta took the stage in daylight and in full view of a sold out Red Rocks crowd, they took a very interesting risk. Until their final number, all of the tunes they played are as of yet unreleased and were completely unfamiliar to those in attendance. While the crowd remained mostly unmoved, the band did their best to have a good time with it and they played very, very well. Anticipation was rising, and the time was drawing near.
The sun having burned one more day to night, it was time for these gracefully aging alt-rockers to take the stage. The crowd erupted as the larger-than-life band stepped out onto the Red Rocks’ stage. After what might have been a poor choice for an opener that did little to get attendees moving, they launched into “Spoonman”. This saw the crowd go wild, and this wound up being the theme of the evening: the entire affair played like a greatest hits album. Where some bands are capable of rousing their audience with their more obscure tunes, it was obvious that the chart-toppers were what people came to hear. As a result, the band themselves seemed to have the most fun with the anthemic singles where those in attendance almost drowned out lead vocalist Chris Cornell, who certainly took chances with his soulful, unique voice for this packed house. For a band that hasn’t released any new music in a decade and a half, they manage to escape that stigma of being a pure nostalgia act, and this is as impressive as anything given the circumstances.
Soundgarden were tight that breezy, balmy night at Red Rocks. Drummer Matt Cameron, also of Pearl Jam, kept things driving into the night with his aggressive grooves while guitarist Kim Thayil and bassist Ben Shepherd brought the grunge sound in droves. Songs like “Blow Up The Outside World” and “Outshined” seemed to sound the best, and it quickly became clear why: the sound was rather poorly mixed, with the treble so loud that it was piercing and shrill to the ears. This was quite disappointing as the band was playing excellently, and it certainly detracted from the overall experience. That said, the sludgier numbers such as the ones mentioned as well as “Jesus Christ Pose” and “Pretty Noose” were what translated the best. Regardless of song choice, the four of them staggered around the stage drunk with rock stardom. Not just any old band sells out Red Rocks after a fourteen year live hiatus.
The throng of fans really didn’t seem to mind the bad mix. In fact, there were many in attendance who reported this being one of the better concert experiences of their lives. And understandably: the last time Soundgarden toured was 1997, and many of those at the show were children then, and might never have had a chance to see such an incredible band perform. And for all anybody knows, this could have been the last opportunity of its kind. It was apparent that people had traveled from far and wide to see such a rare spectacle as this treat of a band performing at one of the more spectacular venues in the country. It was a wonderful evening, and despite the minor drawbacks, both groups kicked major ass and Soundgarden provided a true experience for many grateful fans.
The Mars Volta
// Notes from the Road
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