Soundgarden performing at the O2

Soundgarden at the O2, Dublin on Monday 16th of September 2013

Soundgarden didn’t play Black Hole Sun. That’s right, the rumours are true. The band with six albums under their belt, including a new one they’re plugging, didn’t play that hit from nineteen years ago. Granted, it may be their biggest hit and what helped them really catch mainstream attention but it seems that far too much attention has been paid to its omission from Monday’s O2 setlist. Certainly, anyone who had their night – at €60 per ticket – ruined by its absence has a misaligned sense of priorities.

And while that cost may have put some people off, there is still a sizeable crowd piled into the Dublin 1 venue. Kim Thayil (guitar) and Ben Shepherd (bass) look like the grunge survivors they are; clad in black with long scraggily hair and beards. When Chris Cornell walks out he looks different. He too has the beard and the hair, but he is far more preened. He looks like he has spent the last twenty years at a beach-side spa rather than at the bottom of a glass of whiskey; it’s grunge Jim, but not as we know it.

Launching into the music with the lumbering twenty-five year old Incessant Mace, the band sounds as tight as ever. And, as the songs ends with a screaming climax from Cornell (there’s gotta be a better way to say that) it’s clear that he is still in his prime.

A pattern slowly emerges though in which the ‘hits’ hit and most everything else misses. For every Outshined or Spoonman, there’s a Non State Actor or Thousand Days, from the largely ignored ‘King Animal’ that fails to win over the crowd. The problem is that there is no sense of show.

The band members play with little flourish. The light show, while fine, falls a long way short of spectacular. The screen backing the stage shows a few pictures here and there on the rare occasion it is used, but nothing on it is in any way compelling. It’s all so uninspired. It might not be a band just going through the motions, but maybe one that hasn’t embraced twenty years of technology the way it could have.

Then, when you think things can’t get any worse, they play The Day I Tried to Live or My Wave, and totally redeem themselves. They are great tracks, written by a band at the peak of their powers, sung by one of the all time great rock voices. They require no further show. Same too goes for Limo Wreck which, Cornell informs us, is the first time they’ve played it in fifteen years. There were probably far fewer people viewing it through their phone back in those days.

The triple threat of Fell on Black Days, Blow Up the Outside World and Superunknown is undoubtedly the highlight and sees the band exit the stage, the crowd left rapt in their wake. They return to play Rusty Cage – which just fails to work sonically – and Like Suicide. A frustrating spell of self-indulgence on the part of Thayil and Sheppard ends the show at a low ebb.

By no means perfect, but with enough to make it enjoyable, a Soundgarden show is worth seeing live. Whether it’s worth €60 though, is open to further debate. Chris Cornell says he wants to move to Dublin and play every week. We’d take that, within reason. Maybe just play Black Hole Sun every now and again to keep the dissenter quiet.

Soundgarden Photo Gallery

Photos: Dave Kelly