Soundgarden Makes Triumphant Return to Pittsburgh

A near capacity crowd gathered outdoors at Stage AE on a cool Sunday night to welcome Soundgarden back to Pittsburgh for the first time in more than two decades.

For much of that time away, the band had been on hiatus – in fact, the group had disbanded in 1997. But the recently regrouped and rejuvenated band is officially back in the saddle and seems to be stronger than ever.

Soundgarden is currently touring in support of its first studio album in 15 years, “King Animal,” which was released in November. The tour’s setlists have included a heavy rotation of new material, but also have included enough variety to please everyone from fans longing to hear the band’s greatest hits to those hungry for brooding deep tracks from albums past.

Although most Seattle-area bands that revolutionized the rock music scene of the early ’90s shunned the “grunge” label that was often stamped on them, Soundgarden’s sound has always been among the “grungiest.” While many of the band’s hits like “Spoonman,” “Black Hole Sun,” “Fell on Black Days” and “Burden in my Hand” stand up well on mainstream or even pop/rock radio, the true core of Soundgarden is slightly metal with a dark, dingy and diabolical sound that is undeniably distinctive.

The band kicked off the show not with a new tune nor one of their many hit singles, but rather with “Incessant Mace” – a snarling gem burried deep on their 1988 album “Ultramega OK” that paints visions of Black Sabbath writing the score for a Tim Burton movie soundtrack.

A raucus combination of “Hunted Down” and “Ty Cobb” was followed by the single from “The Avengers” movie soundtrack, “Live to Rise.”

All but a couple of tracks from “King Animal” were performed, as was every one of their hits and crowd favorites, including “Outshined,” “Blow Up the Outside World,” “Pretty Noose” and a showstopping “Rusty Cage.” It was the oddballs like “4th of July,” “Room a Thousand Years Wide” and “Fresh Tendrils” that made the Pittsburgh show unique.

The four-song encore was comprised of a blistering “Been Away Too Long,” “My Wave,” “Black Hole Sun” and “Rowing,” which ended with about five to 10 solid minutes of manipulated feedback over a looping bass line as each member walked off stage separately. The show delivered more than two dozen songs overall, leaving satisfied fans grinning from start to finish, and most likely through the ride home, too.

All four members of Soundgarden – Chris Cornell on vocals and guitar, Kim Thayil on lead guitar, Matt Cameron on drums and Ben Shepherd on bass – add a crucial element to the band’s unmistakable sound with their outstanding playing abilities and songwriting talents. They’ve regained the same spark that made them such a great band in the past, and the veteran group has brought a new sense of wisdom to both their songwriting and to their stage show.

“It’s embarrassing to say that we haven’t played here in a very, very long time,” Cornell told the crowd.

“It’s really good to be back. Sorry it took so long. I promise you won’t have to wait another 20 years.”