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Ramsey Sierra
...and then a Soundgarden sprung from the desert

Soundgarden, Queens of the Stone Age, Mastodon, Meat Puppets

The Gorge

Saturday, July 30

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Soundgarden, Queens of the Stone Age, Mastodon, and Meat Puppets Become Four-Headed, Fire-Breathing Rock Hydra Saturday at the Gorge

IMG_3864.JPG
Ramsey Sierra
...and then a Soundgarden sprung from the desert

Soundgarden, Queens of the Stone Age, Mastodon, Meat Puppets

The Gorge

Saturday, July 30

It felt comically warm to a rain-pickled Western Washingtonian at the Gorge on Saturday. The picture-perfect weather added to the surreality of an already too-good-to-be-true lineup that began with seminal punk-to-bluegrass trailblazers Meat Puppets, then wound its way through the stoner-metal holy forest with Mastodon and Queens of the Stone Age before Soundgarden closed the night.

Most of the Puppets' set was lost on the long hike from the campground to the stage, but "Lake of Fire" sounded as rowdy as I had hoped it would on the way in. The sun was still relatively high in the sky and the place was filling with a decidedly drunk mass of campers who had justifiably tried to cram as much of their own liquor into their systems before the venue's $10 beers became their only booze option.

Mastodon's four members were squished to the front of the stage between their massive speaker stacks, which broadcast every intricacy from each psych-metal opus so clearly that even the drunkest of us could read through each composition like annotated Shakespeare. I've been told on occasion (especially from drummers, it seems) that Mastodon's parts don't fall into position well enough; that certain cogs in the machine attempt to carry too much of the weight, and detract from the overall product with their showiness. For me, however, this is their charm. The complexity of each member's input to what may sound like a dense wall of beastly metal to the casual listener makes re-listens and live performances so much more rewarding, and the sheer unpredictability of each song is what keeps me coming back.

The Atlanta quartet served a healthy portion of tracks from their most mainstream album, Blood Mountain ("Crystal Skull" and "Circle of Cysquatch" were at their most awesome), and sprinkled in a few movements from 2009's mind-bending concept trip Crack the Skye. The heavens may very well have been fractured--or at least as bruised as I was from the mosh-pit--however, the pristine baby-blueness overhead left no such indication.

Queens of the Stone Age took the stage on a weekend where they were set to play their own surprise headlining gig at the Showbox, and in a year where a large number of their (large number of) set lists have been pulled almost exclusively from their 1998 self-titled debut album to commemorate its deluxe re-release. Factors like these made any predictions as to the form of this specific performance rather tricky, but as any QOTSA concert-vet could tell you, the quality of any given Queens show renders such silly predictions superfluous.

This time around, Josh Homme and company (it looked as if they had recruited yet another new bassist, but the trio of Homme/Van Leeuwen/Castillo have become the band's new core anyhow) belted out a best-of compilation geared for the masses, hitting standards like "Go With the Flow", "No One Knows" and "First It Giveth" on the head, then shattering the comfortable familiarity with the rumbling, sledgehammer-riffed "Mexicola." Although still fairly light by most other front-person standards, Homme's moderate commentary between songs diverged from the let-the-music-do-the-talking approach he usually favors onstage, and was a welcomed friendliness. Before playing the last song, Homme thanked the audience for coming, then drove the pit into a frenzy with "A Song for the Dead".

The sun set, the crowd hushed, I ate chicken strips and a quesadilla. Then Soundgarden emerged to play the last show on their decade-in-the-making reunion tour. "We finally came back around and got home," said Chris Cornell gratefully. "And you were here when we got here." Well, duh right!?

The most down-tempo, doom-leaning of all the famed grunge bands, 'Garden jumped instead into the more accessible end their classic repertoire with "Spoonman" "Jesus Christ Pose," "Blow Up the Outside World," and the likes before Cornell explained that they'd like to play some new songs at some point, but there were just so many old ones to get through. The crowd ate up every minute of it, and Cornell even gave a little backstory on a few tracks before rocking them out: "Burden in My Hand", he said, was written with this area (Eastern Washington desert land) in mind, and that "The Day I Tried to Live" had become the soundtrack to his day that morning. By the time they got around to playing my personal favorite, the down-tuned headbanger "4th of July", the crowd was visibly exhausted, but happy (aside from a few on-floor squabbles).

The band left the stage, but returned after a few minutes and played "Room a Thousand Years Wide" from Badmotorfinger, then jumped into what could have been a mashup of a few old rockers, or just as easily some creative, distortion-soaked jam-space. Guitarist Kim Thayil was stoic throughout, lifting his bottled water to salute the crowd on occasion, a broad smile visible through his black-and-gray beard. Bassist Ben Shepherd was in a fiery mood all night, toying with the fans on his side of the stage, punting stageside lights, and chucking his bass after one song. Drummer Matt Cameron made the gig look easy, hammering out the heavily miked drum lines with mathematical accuracy, and reaffirmed (as if he needed to) his spot along side Dave Grohl as the most influential grunge-era drummer to emerge from that fateful time in the Northwest.

Soundgarden left the stage once again amid a hailstorm of feedback that reverberated throughout the Columbia River Gorge and left ears ringing generally, and appeased both fans and grunge gods alike.

Check below for an incomplete set list that you can help me fill in (I did the best I could jotting down song names while being tossed around the mosh pit!), and a bunch of awesome pictures.

Searching With My Good Eye Closed*

Spoonman

Gun*

Jesus Christ Pose

Blow Up The Outside World

The Day I Tried To Live

My Wave

Burden In My Hand

Ugly Truth*

Fell On Black Days

Hunted Down*

Drawing Flies*

Black Hole Sun

Outshined

Rusty Cage

Head Down*

Pretty Noose

Superunknown

4th of July

Encore

Room a Thousand Years Wide

Beyond the Wheel*

Slaves & Bulldozers*

*Added with help from Setlist.fm

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