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Soundgarden kicks off reunion tour with hits and angst to spare

Chris Cornell of Soundgarden performs during their concert in Toronto.

Mark Blinch/Reuters/Mark Blinch/Reuters

Soundgarden

At Molson Canadian Amphitheatre

In Toronto on Saturday

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"They said a storm was coming," Chris Cornell said, "and now here it is." At Toronto's half-shell by the lake, the Soundgarden singer was commenting on the rain that had arrived partway into the reunited band's nostalgic return to the touring wars. Or he spoke of Soundgarden's own cathartic, pouring assault. Same thing. The loud sullenists, led by doom-pilot Cornell, are on the radar once again - black days and black-hole suns, back on the horizon.

Soundgarden, famous for grunge-metal heaviness and MTV glory in the 1990s, had existed for more than a dozen years and five albums years before splitting in 1997. The Seattle foursome, heavy as an apocalypse and just as cheery, reformed for last summer's Lollapalooza festival and a handful of small-venue dates. "Welcome to the first show of the first tour in 13, 14 years," Cornell said, greeting his full house in upbeat mood.

What followed was nearly two hours of pummel, sludge, speed and scream - hits, volume and angst to spare, rusty cages broken from.

Long-haired and broodingly messianic at age 46, Cornell was up to vocal-shredding snuff on Spoonman and Jesus Christ Pose. Guitarist Kim Thayil had his moments, leaving his flashiest work for a bluesy jam on Slaves & Bulldozers, the final of a three encore songs.

Matt Cameron, who after Soundgarden disbanded picked up a job keeping time for fellow Seattle-scene pioneers Pearl Jam, is one for tricky rhythms. Time signatures on the thrashing blitz (or blitzing thrash?) of Gun and others switched on the fly. Bassist Ben Shepherd, stage right, rumbled like Pompeii.

A new album from Soundarden is in the works, but if the all-in-black-fans were disappointed that no fresh material was premiered - "We have new ones too," explained Cornell, "we just don't have room in the set" - they didn't show it. Instead they saved their wildest support for the super well-known content of the albums Badmotorfinger (1991) and Superunknown (1994). That said, the after-show buzz centred around the surprising Beyond the Wheel, a monstrous shrine to Led Zeppelin from Soundgarden's Ultramega Ok debut record from 1988.

Halfway through the show, Cornell introduced a "slightly old one," Outshined . "It gives me the butterflies, gives me away," he raged morosely, "till I'm up on my feet again, I'm feeling outshined."

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Soundgarden is back upright, strong enough to shine on, for a little while at least.

Soundgarden plays London, Ont., Sunday; Ottawa Blues, July 5; Calgary, July 27; Vancouver, July 29.

SET LIST:

Black Rain

Searching With My Good Eye Closed

Spoonman

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Gun

Rusty Cage

Blow Up the Outside World

Let Me Drown

Jesus Christ Pose

My Wave

The Day I Tried to Live

Outshined

Beyond the Wheel

Fell on Black Days

Ugly Truth

Burden in My Hand

Superunknown

Black Hole Sun

4th of July

ENCORE:

Face Pollution

Like Suicide

Slaves & Bulldozers

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