Image: Taylor Hill
Chris Cornell, circa 2013 and fully clothed.

 “Seattle!” Soundgarden front man Chris Cornell knew the one word that would get the crowd going last night at the Paramount. It had been 16 years since the local grunge heroes had a new studio album to tout—and even Cornell admitted he’d “Been Away Too Long” from his hometown. (The first single off King Animal says as much.) So all it took was that one word, echoing around the Paramount, to send the night into overdrive.

Seattle! We’re going to play for a while tonight.” A while, by my watch, was two and a half hours of body-shaking rock that dipped deep into Soundgarden’s catalog, all the way to their debut EP with Sub Pop, through the hits that carried them beyond Seattle (“Spoonman,” “Fell on Black Days,” “Jesus Christ Pose,” “Hands All Over”), and up to new tracks from King Animal. Despite it sounding like it was the 1990s inside the theater, we were experiencing grown-up grunge.  

Average age of the crowd? I’d ballpark it at 35—a mix of men and women in uniform (leather jackets, skullcaps) who’ve long since graduated from head-banging to subtly rocking in place. (Is it still grunge if no one’s moshing?) Cell phones only came out on special occasions—say, to record Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready guesting on “Tighter and Tighter”—instead of trying to tape the entire show to later post on Facebook. Nostalgia seekers know the importance of This Moment, the first official Soundgarden reunion in Seattle in over a decade, and didn’t want to waste it. 

Which means the audience might have been relatively…sober. It didn’t help that the bar was in the lobby and drinks weren’t allowed in the theater. But even Cornell commented on how the Paramount, in weed-friendly Seattle, didn’t smell as fragrant as some arenas the band had played on the East Coast. Our boring adult ways didn’t keep things from getting loud—or keep the band from absolutely killing it. Matt Cameron can still drum his way into our chest cavities, delivering a rhythm that’s part Pearl Jam, part Soundgarden, and 100 percent ferocious. Ben Shepherd still tossed his bass over his shoulder as a badass “I’m outta here” at the end of the night. The Kim Thayill–Mike McCready dueling lead guitars could only happen in Seattle. And we think Eddie Vedder was watching from the sidelines.

The biggest differences between 1993 and 2013? Cameron is old enough to have a son, Ray, join them on stage for a song (on a school night). And Cornell keeps his shirt on.

With no opener and a two-song encore, we were home by 11.

Soundgarden
Feb 8 at 8, Paramount Theatre (doors open at 7, no opening act)