It’s a dark, heavy evening in Dublin. Hard to believe that just over two weeks ago we were swanning around at the Electric Picnic, yet here we are arriving at a gig undercover of the night. It’s a bit of a shock, yet not as big a shock as finding that Soundgarden are not only touring in 2013 but playing a venue the size of the O2. One of the big Seattle three they may have been, but there was still a sense that the band were of a moment and hardly built for the ages.
That’s not to say they don’t exude an easy going charm when they amble onstage in the most un-showy way possible. It’s not an entrance designed to wow an arena but it works, immediately setting the tone for the evening. Soundgarden these days are all about the music, even with the quintessential rock star at the helm. Yet Chris Cornell also plays it down, chatting with the crowd as if he were in a club venue.
And what an experience that would be. There’s no doubting that the band are still on top of their game musically, creating a noise so expansive that it’s hard to believe that there are only three pairs of hands behind it (four when Cornell picks up a guitar). Their sound hasn’t dated as much as you might think, mainly because it was pretty much out of time the first time around – owing far more to Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin than punk. Which means the opening hour is high on power but light on dimension, moving from one slightly dirgey tune to another. The announcement that they’re going to play ‘Limo Wreck’ for the first time raises a half-hearted cheer and it seems that there are as many casual fans here as die-hards.
As the show develops, it becomes clear that it’s not built for a venue of this size and is far more suited to the kind of rooms they’ve been playing elsewhere on this European tour. Those up front and centre are attempting to get some sort of atmosphere going, but those in the furthest corners of the O2 seem less engaged. Crowd pleasing anthems were never really their thing, but you do wish that sometimes they would break out from the wall of noise a bit more. When they do – on a six song closing run that moves from impressive newie ‘Non-State Actor’ through ‘Burden In My Hand’ and a stunning ‘Fell On Black Days’ – the gig becomes all that it could be.
The encore takes us a step backwards however, with a sprightly ‘Rusty Cage’ leading into versions of ‘Like Suicide’ and ‘Beyond The Wheel’ that disappear within themselves, ending the night on a low-key, disappointing note – a shame since much of it has been damn fine. Changing their set list every night and not being afraid to avoid the obvious songs (‘Black Hole Sun’, ‘Jesus Christ Pose’ and ‘Pretty Noose’ are all notable by their absence) is often to be admired, but tonight Soundgarden could have done themselves – and us – a few more favours.
Soundgarden photographed for State by Paulo Goncavles.