Soundgarden reunion tour relives band's '90s glory

TORONTO Sun Jul 3, 2011 9:48am EDT

1 of 4. Chris Cornell of Soundgarden performs during their concert in Toronto July 2, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Mark Blinch

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TORONTO (Reuters) - More than 14 years after Soundgarden broke up, the Seattle rockers launched their reunion tour in Toronto on Saturday, taking 16,000 nostalgic fans back to the glory days of the 1990s grunge era.

The foursome raced through 21 songs in two hours at the Molson Amphitheatre, focusing mostly on the riff-laden dark material that transformed them into MTV darlings.

In contrast to the tense final show of their last tour in 1997, the scene on stage seemed particularly more relaxed.

Singer/guitarist Chris Cornell shot some video footage of the audience, and his young son could be seen in the wings playing air drums and singing along. His traditionally stone-faced colleagues allowed themselves the occasional smile, but they rarely acknowledged each other.

Toronto was the first stop of a 20-date tour that wraps July 30 in Washington state; the band is also slated to headline a festival in New Orleans on October 28.

Beyond that, the band must take second-place to drummer Matt Cameron's commitments to Pearl Jam, which is touring Canada throughout September. Cornell will spend most of October on a solo tour of New Zealand and Australia.

Soundgarden is also working on a follow-up to its last studio album, 1996's "Down on the Upside," which is tentatively set to come out early next year. Cornell said there was no room in the set list to premiere any songs.

CULT FAVORITES TO MTV

Soundgarden emerged in the 1980s from a fertile Seattle music scene that also produced such grunge bands as Nirvana, Alice in Chains and the future members of Pearl Jam. The band was often likened to Led Zeppelin early in its career, winning cult approval from punk and heavy metal enthusiasts.

It crossed over into the mainstream with its chart-topping 1994 album "Superunknown," an MTV-friendly set that yielded two Grammys. Nine of the album's 15 tracks were played in Toronto, including the hits "Black Hole Sun" and "Fell on Black Days."

Half of the 12 tunes from that album's predecessor, 1991's "Badmotorfinger," were also dusted off, including the speed-metal track "Rusty Cage" that Johnny Cash later revived in a stripped-down version.

Just two songs were played from "Down on the Upside," an album at the center of a rift about musical direction. Rising tensions led to Soundgarden's break-up after the final stop of its 1997 tour in Hawaii.

Only Cornell and Cameron retained high public profiles in subsequent years. The singer released a few solo albums and formed the "supergroup" Audioslave with members of Rage Against the Machine. Cameron became Pearl Jam's fifth drummer.

But guitarist Kim Thayil told Reuters in May that the foursome managed to remain friends, with the musicians often bumping into each other in Seattle's tight-knit music scene.

The reunion started to come together last year, with the band playing the Lollapalooza festival in August, and a handful of low-profile dates in small venues.

The group, rounded out by bassist Ben Shepherd, is taking the current reunion on a day-to-day basis, given that the members are older, wiser and have domestic commitments.

"The band is definitely handling its career situation in a lot freer way than it did before," Thayil said. "There are other focal points to people's lives individually and those can't be taken away. First things first."

(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)

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