Lollapalooza, you have to make some agonizing decisions about what to see. Green Day or Phoenix? The New Pornographers or Devo? Arcade Fire or Soundgarden? With five or more bands playing simultaneously at any given time, you can’t have it all, I’m afraid. As Chicago’s biggest music fest came to a close on Sunday, there was no other way to cut it—Day 3 was a letdown. By which I mean Soundgarden was a letdown, since the historic reunion of Chris Cornell’s Seattle grunge band was one of the highlights of Sunday’s schedule. This was just their third concert since their reunion in April, and, for that matter, since their breakup 13 years ago. (Arcade Fire, who played at the same time, were a mile away at the opposite end of Grant Park, so there was no possibility of taking in a bit of both acts.)When attending
I had a few reservations leading into their set. First, it was obvious this was going to be little more than just a greatest hits concert. I mean, Soundgarden hasn’t released any new material since 1997. Also, Chris Cornell has since left his grunge roots far behind, embracing pop-rock instead, and even contributing the lackluster song “You Know My Name” to Casino Royale.
Few shared my reservations. One woman named Jackie who was attending the concert with her husband told me that Soundgarden was her favorite band. “I’ve been waiting 15 years to see them live,” she said. “I’ve seen Audioslave in concert and Chris Cornell’s solo act, but never Soundgarden.” Gauging from the audience reaction to their first glimpse of Cornell & Co., the rest of the crowd was every bit as excited, more so than they had been for Lady Gaga or Green Day the nights before. From the start, dozens of lighters (not cell phones, thankfully, with all due respect to the Surgeon General) popped up, pointed at the sky.
To be fair, Soundgarden’s concert opened well, with classic hit after classic hit—including “Spoonman” and their enduring masterpiece “Black Hole Sun.” But unlike the effervescent Billie Joe Armstrong the night before, Chris Cornell didn’t interact with the crowd at all. He played song after song with a dour reserve. Sure, I know grunge is all about melancholy. But Cornell’s vocals and guitar lacked passion, feeling dutiful more than inspired. It was a competent set, but little more than that. Unlike Green Day, who played for an additional 15 minutes beyond their allocated time, Soundgarden ended 10 minutes early. Everybody stood motionless for a few moments, thinking that more was to come. But no, a Macy Gray song started blaring from the speakers to signal that Soundgarden, and by extension Lollapalooza, was done. By all rights, this concert should have been historic. The crowd couldn’t have been more excited if Kurt Cobain had gone all Lazarus on us and Nirvana reunited. Instead, I was left feeling that I should have seen Arcade Fire instead.
And with that, Lollapalooza comes to a close. For those of you who were there, what were your favorite acts? What do you wish you could have seen? And, like me, were you disappointed with Soundgarden?
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