Walter Tunis: Soundgarden doesn't seem to have lost its grungy edge

Contributing Music WriterMay 9, 2013 

The longtime lineup of Soundgarden consists of, clockwise from left, Ben Shepherd, Matt Cameron, Kim Thayil and Chris Cornell.

REPUBLIC RECORDS

  • THE WEEK THAT WAS

    ZZ Top at the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond: On paper, it was a dream combination: a ZZ Top concert on Cinco de Mayo. After all, what better day — or way — to celebrate the blues and boogie music the Texas trio has been playing for more than four decades.

    Truth to tell, though, guitarist Billy F. Gibbons, bassist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard were on a roll, seriously shaking up their set list and having a ball with rootsy, rustic and highly economic guitar workouts. The fact it was Cinco de Mayo probably helped. It certainly gave the border-radio classic Heard It on the X greater gravity. But it could have been Arbor Day and ZZ Top probably still would have delivered the goods.

    Musically, the 90-minute performance didn't stray much from the elemental, blues- fortified grinds the band has always favored. To that end, this was Gibbons' show all the way. As the trio's only soloist, he summoned up thick, angular solos that nicely worked off the plentiful boogie grooves at the heart of most tunes. When the music shifted strictly to the blues, as during 1975's Blue Jean Blues, one of many surprises the band spruced up its set list with, Gibbons' soloing was more fluid. But at no point did he overindulge. Then there were the hits, most of which have aged well. The '80s Eliminator singles Sharp Dressed Man and Gimme All Your Lovin' still had a crisp pop efficiency very much in keeping with the rest of the performance, while the '70s boogie anthems La Grange and Tush, which closed the show, still reflected a refreshing level of Lone Star wildness.

    But what was featured around all that stole the show. The opening Precious and Grace, from 1973's Tres Hombres, was unexpected. Ditto for 1970's Certified Blues, which was exactly that thanks to Gibbon's soulful playing, and the 1975 roadhouse rumble Nasty Dogs and Funky Kings.

    Hill piloted the last forgotten gem, the band's 1992 cover of Viva Las Vegas, which it seldom performs anymore. It was a crowning, celebratory touch for a boogie band that still manages to fashion most any day — onstage, at least — into a holiday.

Soundgarden

7:30 p.m. May 10 at Louisville Palace, 625 S. Fourth St., Louisville. $59.50. Ticketmaster, 1-800-745-3000 or Ticketmaster.com.

There was a time, some 2½ decades ago, when a then-formative band out of Seattle was in Lexington celebrating the rise of a high-volume sound with a metal accent and a post-punk attitude that would come to be called grunge.

This particular celebration came about one evening at The Wrocklage, the long-since gone music club on the Short Street grounds now occupied by the restaurant Shakespeare and Co. The band, already a hit at the time with indie crowds but still far removed from the crossover success it would enjoy, was Soundgarden.

On Friday, the quartet of Chris Cornell, Kim Thayil, Matt Cameron and Ben Shepherd returns to Kentucky to perform at Louisville Palace. Though it re-formed in 2010 after a 13-year split, Soundgarden has never been all that removed from the public eye.

Cornell played the Palace twice as a solo act during the dormant years. And then there was rock radio, which never fully let go of Soundgarden's Grammy-winning 1994 hit, Black Hole Sun. So extensive was the song's influence that Peter Frampton cut a popular instrumental version for his Grammy-winning album Fingerprints.

But perhaps the best thing about Sound garden's return was the release last winter of King Animal, its sixth studio album and its first collection of new songs since 1996's Down on the Upside.

Roughly a half-dozen tunes from King Animal have become staples of the band's current tour. But reviews also hail the still-vital exchanges between Cornell and Thayil during such mainstay tunes as Rusty Cage, Spoonman and Fell on Black Days.

Sure, it's not the same as seeing a youthful, hungry Soundgarden going for broke in downtown Lexington. But by all reports, this reteamed Seattle troupe sounds cranky enough to warrant the road trip to Derbytown.

Interludes

■ Monday will be family night at WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. On tap for the show's taping at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center, 300 East Third Street, will be The Willis Clan, a Tennessee-based troupe of musicians, writers and dancers versed in all manner of Irish music and culture. The group took top honors at the All-Ireland and Irish Dance Regional Championships and opened a series of concerts by Brad Paisley and The Band Perry in Ireland. Monday's bill will be rounded out by The Church Sisters, teenage twins Sarah and Savannah Church from Virginia who specialize in bluegrass. They have toured throughout Europe and rubbed shoulders with such bluegrass elite as Rhonda Vincent, The Isaacs and Tony Rice. As with all WoodSongs tapings, reservations are encouraged: Call (859) 252-8888. (6:45 p.m. $20. Woodsongs.com.)

■ If you haven't checked out extraordinary Nashville guitarist Kenny Vaughan during any of his previous Lexington visits, another opportunity presents itself this weekend. He returns to Willie's Locally Known, 805 North Broadway, on Friday. As usual, Vaughan will offer a set of roots-driven country tunes and ultra-scholarly playing with his own band before returning to supply guitar behind co-billed singer songwriter Sam Lewis. (8 p.m. $10. (859) 281-1116. Willieslex.com.)

■ Direct from the great Northwest by way of Lone Star country comes the return of Reckless Kelly. The Oregon-born, Texas-bred Americana rockers are back at Buster's Billiards & Backroom, 899 Manchester Street, on Saturday. The band is still touring behind the country-saturated road songs of the 2011's Good Luck and True Love. Charlyhorse and Jollett Hollow will open. (9 p.m. $12 in advance, $15 day of show. (859) 368-8871. Bustersbb.com.)


THE WEEK THAT WAS

ZZ Top at the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond: On paper, it was a dream combination: a ZZ Top concert on Cinco de Mayo. After all, what better day — or way — to celebrate the blues and boogie music the Texas trio has been playing for more than four decades.

Truth to tell, though, guitarist Billy F. Gibbons, bassist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard were on a roll, seriously shaking up their set list and having a ball with rootsy, rustic and highly economic guitar workouts. The fact it was Cinco de Mayo probably helped. It certainly gave the border-radio classic Heard It on the X greater gravity. But it could have been Arbor Day and ZZ Top probably still would have delivered the goods.

Musically, the 90-minute performance didn't stray much from the elemental, blues- fortified grinds the band has always favored. To that end, this was Gibbons' show all the way. As the trio's only soloist, he summoned up thick, angular solos that nicely worked off the plentiful boogie grooves at the heart of most tunes. When the music shifted strictly to the blues, as during 1975's Blue Jean Blues, one of many surprises the band spruced up its set list with, Gibbons' soloing was more fluid. But at no point did he overindulge. Then there were the hits, most of which have aged well. The '80s Eliminator singles Sharp Dressed Man and Gimme All Your Lovin' still had a crisp pop efficiency very much in keeping with the rest of the performance, while the '70s boogie anthems La Grange and Tush, which closed the show, still reflected a refreshing level of Lone Star wildness.

But what was featured around all that stole the show. The opening Precious and Grace, from 1973's Tres Hombres, was unexpected. Ditto for 1970's Certified Blues, which was exactly that thanks to Gibbon's soulful playing, and the 1975 roadhouse rumble Nasty Dogs and Funky Kings.

Hill piloted the last forgotten gem, the band's 1992 cover of Viva Las Vegas, which it seldom performs anymore. It was a crowning, celebratory touch for a boogie band that still manages to fashion most any day — onstage, at least — into a holiday.

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