Publicity photo
Members of Soundgarden from left, Matt Cameron,
Ben Shepherd, Kim Thayil, and Chris Cornell.

Soundgarden thrives
on passion

Grunge band makes its isle debut
Saturday and Sunday

By Nadine Kam
Assistant Features Editor

Reaction is always equal and directly opposite to action, according to Sir Isaac Newton's third law of motion. But the physicist might as well have been talking rock 'n' roll.

Just as Spandex- and makeup-clad heavy metal hair bands found themselves replaced eight years ago by their antithesis - uncostumed, scruffy-haired grunge acts - the survivors of the moody, drony grunge movement now find themselves competing with shiny, happy ska.

But for those who still prefer passion to feel-good messages plastered over an oom-pa-pah blare of horns, grunge great Soundgarden plays Maui and Oahu for the first time Saturday and Sunday nights, respectively.

The band, noted for extreme reticence, was not granting pre-concert interviews, but who can blame them, when publications such as Details magazine have done the band no favor, preferring to focus on lead singer Chris Cornell's good looks and hermit-like nature rather than the music.

In lieu of speaking to a reporter, the band offered up an interview CD, "Into the Upside," a take on the making of the band's most recent album, "Down on the Upside."

This form of unprying "interview" suits the private Soundgarden to a "T" - deliberate, exact and ultimately, unrevealing, like their album covers, which often show the band as featureless shadows. From the interview, for instance, you learn that their album might have been called "Mr. Bunjee Pants." Whoopee.

Soundgarden was one of the original "Deep Six" bands, whose membership included the Melvins and Malfunkshun. Collectively, they helped shape the Seattle scene that would take the rest of the nation by storm about eight years ago. At that time, Soundgarden's line-up featured Cornell, lead guitarist Kim Thayil, drummer Matt Cameron and bassist Hiro Yamamoto, who has since been replaced by Ben Shepherd.

Soundgarden and the other bands found themselves eclipsed on the fame meter by the more radio-friendly Nirvana and Pearl Jam. But musically, and in spite of the collective "grunge" moniker, the bands had little in common.

Where Nirvana married punk and melodic pop ditties, and Pearl Jam glommed on to straightforward alterna-rock with a message, Soundgarden took its cue from the big-sounding classic rock of the '70s, perhaps identifying a little too closely to its metal roots to be comfortable for a hip alternative crowd.

Although at times, snippets of Led Zeppelin crack the surface of Soundgarden's music, they create sounds unmatched by any other band, built on oddly metered rhythms, instrumental density, aggressive guitar lines and always, Cornell's brooding vocals, which can range from a thick, honeyed drone to what reviewer Bob Scheu refers to as "The Scream," an equivalent of moving from zero to 60 vocally.

Soundgarden recorded "Ultramega OK" in 1988, which was followed by "Louder Than Love" in 1989. But casual listeners first heard The Scream in songs such as "Rusty Cage" and "Outshined" when the band released 1991's double platinum "BadMotorFinger." "Outshined" featured Cornell's lyric, "I'm looking California, but feeling Minnesota," which inspired the film title, "Feeling Minnesota."

"Rusty Cage" went on to be covered by Johnny Cash in his October 1996 album, "Unchained."

In a news article on the Soundgarden web page, Cash recalled, "Rick (Rubin) sent me a tape of 'Rusty Cage' ... but I couldn't for the life of me, hear me singing this Soundgarden song."

Swapping the song's full throttle metal approach for a stripped-down country, bluesy demeanor, Cash said the idea finally clicked. "The lyrics. I began to love the lyrics," Cash said. "They began to make sense to me."

But compared to the Soundgarden version, the macho Cash sounded rather wimpy.

With the death of Mother Love Bone singer and friend Andrew Wood, Soundgarden detoured from its musical path and with Pearl Jam took on a joint tribute project, calling themselves and the resulting 1992 album, "Temple of the Dog."

Soundgarden also appeared in the film and sound track for "Singles."

The 1994 release of "Superunknown" led to a 1995 Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance of the song "Spoonman." The album also earned the Best Rock Song Grammy for "Black Hole Sun."

This year, the band has a Grammy nomination for "Pretty Noose," off "Down on the Upside." The 39th annual awards ceremony takes place Feb. 26 at New York's Madison Square Garden, and the band's only real competition is the Smashing Pumpkins' "Bullet with Butterfly Wings."

At any rate, Soundgarden is not to be missed. Returning home from shows in Australia, they may not stop this way again.

In concert

Who: Soundgarden, with opening band Sunburn
When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Blaisdell Arena
Tickets: $20 for balcony; $25 open floor
Call: Charge by phone at 545-4000 or 1-(800)-333-3388
Also: Concert at noon tomorrow at Maui Arts & Cultural Center. Tickets are $23.25 at the MACC box office

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