Two Perspectives: NIN and Soundgarden

By Brandon HENSLEY

I tried to qualify Soundgarden’s performance Monday night at the Hollywood Bowl to Isiah hours before the show. Most of that had to do with lead singer Chris Cornell. He’s not the same anymore, I told Isiah, but as long as the band plays well, it’ll be okay.

That was stupid.

I’ve immersed myself in Cornell’s music long enough now to know that when he’s on top of his game, there’s no one I’d rather listen to in the universe. Standing at 6’2” with the same lean, sinewy build since the 1980s, Cornell projects godlike attributes by simply walking on stage. And then you search Youtube for his best vocal performances and you wonder why anyone would not want to spend all day listening to him reach four octaves above his naturally baritone register.

But of course, enough footage has also proven that when he’s not having his best day, it’s noticeable, and this being my first Soundgarden show, I simply wanted Cornell to stay in his wheelhouse so as not to make it seem like he was straining or breaking.

By the end of Soundgarden’s set, my worries had long dissipated. Isiah turned to me and said, “I thought you said Chris didn’t sound good anymore,” meaning that Cornell had absolutely nailed it. At 50 years old, it’s impossible for him to sound like he does on his records or in the thousands of past shows (for instance, go to Youtube and search “Beyond the Wheel” during the band’s 1993 tour. Insane.).

But this version of Cornell? I’ll take it. On Monday, instead of rising to meet the words and strangling them with ferocious vibrato like he used to, Cornell let his high notes sail out, his tone now more smoky airy, like tendrils gently unfolding his words for the audience to reach out and receive. It was different, but still genuinely awesome to hear live.

Cornell uses more reverb effects than before, but even so, it’s clear that whatever ailed him during his Audioslave years in the mid-2000s is behind him. He went for broke during certain parts of “Fell on Black Days” and “Jesus Christ Pose” and succeeded, giving me all I needed to write a positive review.

Not surprisingly, the band itself was a well-oiled machine. Guitarist Kim Thayil pounded out heavy riffs and scattershot solos, bassist Ben Shepard provided great backup vocals to “Spoonman” and “The Day I Tried to Live,” and drummer Matt Chamberlain, filling in for regular Matt Cameron, impressed as he displayed a near mastery of Cameron’s odd-time signature beats.

Soundgarden stuck to their most well-known songs in their admittedly brief 10 song set list. I would have traded a few out to hear them play “Pretty Noose,” “Burden in My Hand” and the title track to their landmark 1994 album “Superunknown.” Lucky for me though, I love all their hits – even the trippy but played-out “Black Hole Sun.”

After the set I turned to Isiah and asked him if he sometimes wishes he were older so we could have seen some of our favorite bands when they were in their absolute prime. I know I do. But I’ll always have the night I finally saw Soundgarden in 2014, and yeah, they were pretty darn good.



Nine Inch Nails

By Isiah REYES

Last year, I had the pleasure of seeing Nine Inch Nails at Staples Center for the first time when they were touring to promote their new album “Hesitation Marks.” The set list for that show included a huge chunk of newer material that balanced nicely with the older, classic songs. Fast forward to Monday’s show at Hollywood Bowl, and this time NIN is celebrating the 20th anniversary of their 1994 multi-platinum album “The Downward Spiral.” A celebration of an iconic album – count me in.

The show began when lead singer Trent Reznor walked out onto stage by himself with the house lights still on. With only a microphone and a synthesizer to work with, he jumped right into “Copy of A,” a song from their latest album. Some people were caught off guard by the abrupt introduction, but they were soon dancing along to the song’s electronic beats. The rest of the band entered the stage one by one with the backdrop of their silhouettes behind them on blank screens.

It was a simple enough beginning, but that wouldn’t last long. If there’s one thing that live performances of NIN are known for, it’s the visual effects. The band knows how to incorporate lighting, projected images, video, mobile screens and unique staging. No, really, the staging of the band members was impressive. Take your eyes off long enough and they’ll be standing somewhere completely different playing a different instrument.

After a few more songs were played, including fan favorites “March of the Pigs” and “Terrible Lie,” the show hit its peak with “Closer,” arguably one of NIN’s most famous songs. People around me entered almost a frenzied state as they stood up and rocked along to the sensual beat. And as always, the visual effects did not disappoint.

Reznor’s digitized face was shown on a giant screen on stage that then opened up to reveal Reznor singing into a camera that projected his image live.

A few slower songs followed, mainly to build energy for the finale. The final three songs of the set were “Wish” – an aggressive head banger that had blinding strobe lights flashing at the audience, “The Hand That Feeds” – a catchy industrial rock song, and “Head Like a Hole,” a new wave throwback that takes listeners back to the early days when NIN first entered the music scene.

Overall, the set was mostly based on songs that were in NIN’s comfort zone (songs they knew would get a positive reaction), but they were still performed with energy as if they were playing them for the first time live. A quarter of the set included songs from their latest album, so there was something for everyone to enjoy.