There's no way of knowing what Soundgarden would have done between 1997 and 2010. The Seattle band could have just slowly faded or perhaps generated more blockbuster albums like "Superunknown" that would have solidified it as an arena headliner.
With that big unknown hanging over it, the fully reunited band is on the road now reclaiming the fanbase left behind when it hit the creative wall. On Sunday, the tour brought Soundgarden to Pittsburgh for the first time since Lollapalooza '92 on a May night with sub-Seattle temperatures. In fact, when the wind blew it was freezing, almost literally.
Nonetheless, Stage AE Outdoors was about three-quarters filled with fans who managed to sneak out on Mother's Day. Soundgarden took the stage with the gray-bearded Kim Thayil walking on first and plunging us into the total Sabbath sludge fest of "Incessant Mace," a deep track from the band's 1988 debut, "Ultramega OK."
The band didn't stay in that speed for long, quickly hitting the gas for "Hunted Down" and punk rager "Ty Cobb," showing there's no rust and no ill effects from their advancing years.
"It's embarrassing to say we haven't been here in a long time," singer Chris Cornell said, greeting the crowd. "A lot of it's changed and a lot of cool stuff about Pittsburgh has stayed the same. Sorry it took so long."
Soundgarden hadn't been here in a long time, but Mr. Cornell had recently for a solo show, so it was no surprise that the man equipped with one of the most acrobatic voices of his era could soar to the high notes of "Live to Rise" (their "Avengers" song) and "Non-State Actor," one of the highlights of last year's well-represented comeback album, "King Animal."
Of course, the electricity in the air went up for the mid-era songs, like when Mr. Thayil and the muscular rhythm section of Ben Shepherd and Matt Cameron broke into the stuttering riff of "Spoonman." "Rusty Cage" was as frenzied and furious as this grunge stuff gets, while "A Thousand Days Before" highlighted Soundgarden's more majestic, psychedelic side.
Back in the day there would be bodies flying everywhere, but the fans are older and wiser now and in 2013 that's more of A Day to Remember activity.
On "Outshined," his echoey roar must have carried to the top of Mount Washington, where by the way, he noted the distraction of reading the LED messages about pharmaceuticals from the Bayer sign. "It's not even for the effective drugs," he said, with no offense to Bayer.
Speaking of which, to its credit, Soundgarden is switching up the set in every city, like a jam band, and playing some rarities, with the latter part of the show hitting on the big melodic radio tracks like "Burden in My Hand" and "Blow Up the Outside World" that are carried by Mr. Cornell's otherworldly instrument. If people weren't already up, there would have been a standing ovation for his octave-leaping delivery on "Fell on Black Days."
Music this heavy isn't easy to sustain for two-plus hours, especially without the kind of emotional rollercoaster and showmanship that Soundgarden's city-mates Pearl Jam delivers, and you could sense the numbing effect on the crowd past 10 p.m., when the band was getting to "Black Hole Sun."
Late in the set, Mr. Cornell promised it wouldn't be another 20 years before they come back. We can only hope so, because there aren't many bands with an arsenal this powerful.
• "Incessant Mace"
• "Hunted Down"
• "Ty Cobb"
• "Live to Rise"
• "Non-State Actor"
• "Eyelid's Mouth"
• "Halfway There"
• "Room a Thousand Years Wide"
• "By Crooked Steps"
• "Rusty Cage"
• "A Thousand Days Before"
• "Pretty Noose"
• "Burden in My Hand"
• "Blow Up the Outside World"
• "Fell on Black Days"
• "Fresh Tendrils"
• "4th of July"
• "Been Away Too Long"
• "My Wave"
• "Black Hole Sun"
Scott Mervis: email@example.com, 412-263-2576 and on Twitter: @scottmervis_pg. First Published May 13, 2013 2:30 AM