Soundgarden @ Prudential Center

NEWARK, NJ—Coheed and Cambria played their characteristic blend of chaotic strokes and intense arrangements as the audience filed into the cavernous Prudential Center to await grunge gods Soundgarden. Claudio Sanchez’s vocal strength and confidence has definitely grown since their early years. This show was a couple a dates prior to the unfortunate incident leading to bassist Michael Todd’s arrest, so we got to see Coheed at full strength.

Seattle royals Soundgarden were full of vigor, and in fantastic form. This isn’t an old band trying to recapture the past; this is a seasoned band poised to blaze a trail into the future that few can approximate, never mind replicate. To paraphrase Chris Cornell, this show was to be a greatest hits parade. The only song released in this millennium being “Black Rain,” the entire set proved what fans already knew: These songs withstand the test of time, and whether it’s sobriety or the excitement of being back together after 15 years, or both, Soundgarden’s delivery is astonishingly exhilarating.

Opening with “Searching With My Good Eye Closed” and following with the chart topping “Spoonman,” the gloves were off from the start. Bassist Ben Shepherd pointing his instrument like a weapon for “Gun,” and the expansive “Hands All Over” really displayed this band’s range. “Jesus Christ Pose” left burns from the searing heat coming off Cornell’s vocals.

His interaction with the fans was comical, calling people supper stoners and jesting that one audience member probably just smokes weed in his mom’s basement all day while watching cartoons. The comments were well warranted as the overbearing stench of weed exceeded the comfortable contact high levels. Chris even quipped that the pot cloud created by the audience caused the band to fall off the wagon that evening.

Nonetheless, he looked like he was enjoying himself, even more so than in his Audioslave days. The lighting for “Blow Up The Outside World” blazed like the sun, and guitarist Kim Thayill maintained his menacing stance in his Neurosis T-shirt and his fuzz-laden hooks are of the same bloodline as the trippy California experimental act.

“My Wave” soared on wings of independence and for “Day I Tried To Live” the backdrop changed from their celebrated Badmotorfinger album cover to a wooden cross. Drummer Matt Cameron did some tribal pounding to kick off the volcanic “Ty Cob,” a song composed by Shepherd, and Chris’ vocals were jigsaw sharp. “Fell On Black Days” was as deep, warm and heart splitting as ever. The swirling frenzy of “Rusty Cage” generated a healthy mosh-pit at the back of the floor, and Cornell’s high notes are so perfect, that they are almost not human. While observing Cornell in Soundgarden, it’s clear that his masterful guitar skills get lost in the press due to his entrancing vocal prowess. A good problem to have, I guess. He hardly puts his golden axe down, and when he does, it’s to lead the crowd or to pump his mic stand into the air.

“Outshined” and “Superunknown” felt enormous while a burning skull with a third eye illuminated the backdrop. Conversely, “Burden In My Hand” was sweeter and precious. Then Chris announced that the next song was about something really evil, but after the mysterious “Black Hole Sun” he admits that it’s not really evil, and that even he doesn’t know what it means.

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, Chris came back out and started filming the crowd, and they encore with the voyage-taking “Room A Thousand Years Wide” and punk punch of “Face Pollution.” Chris introduces the band, beginning with Matt, who was on backup vocal duty all night, Kim and Ben, and finally Matt introduces Chris Cornell. The spry frontman switches his guitars for the ominous, black boot-stomping dirge of “4th Of July” and the prosaic lyrics were just as combustible as the shredding riffs in “Like Suicide.” Soundgarden ended with the brilliantly heavy, “Slaves And Bulldozers” as each band member just held out one burning note, leaving the stage one by one.

Calling Soundgarden a grunge band would cut their grandeur in half. They shine with inflections of Pink Floyd’s psychedelia, Iron Maiden’s operatics and drama, and interlocking and layering riffs that would make K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton envious, yet they do it all with the organic rock freedom of the Doors.

Holding true to current reports, Cornell did say that Soundgarden would be back with new songs soon, and if so, look out world. This is the band to beat.