Soundgarden still the elder statesmen of grunge 

Pearl Jam is issuing a bevy of commemorative projects. Nirvana’s definitive “Nevermind” is now a remastered box set. So if 2011 is being celebrated as the 20th anniversary of Seattle’s seismic-shift grunge movement, it’s only fair that the third member of its triumvirate — Soundgarden — get equal billing. Which they’re doing in grand style.

After amicably disbanding with a Honolulu farewell show back in ’97, banshee-velocity frontman Chris Cornell and company have recently released: a greatest-hits collection, “Telephantasm”; a Grammy-nominated single from said set, “Black Rain”; and a new concert disc from a ’96 tour, “Live On I-5,” with fiery covers of The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” and The Stooges’ “Search And Destroy.” They’ve also officially reunited.

Tonight, Soundgarden (with original guitarist Kim Thayil, bassist Ben Shepherd and drummer Matt Cameron, who later joined Pearl Jam) blasts into San Francisco on its ever-expanding comeback jaunt. And the group is currently in the middle of writing and recording a brand-new album. What will the record be called?

“I have an idea, but we don’t have anything set in stone just yet,” says Cornell, who stayed busy in his off years with supergroup Audioslave and solo outings. “And we haven’t actually sat down and discussed song titles, per se, so right now there are just a bunch of working titles that will definitely be changed.”

The Grammy-winning quartet had pushed the grunge-sludgy boundaries with platinum piledrivers such as 1991’s “Badmotorfinger” and ’94’s “Superunknown,” and sweeping ballads such as “Black Hole Sun,” which Cornell often played in acoustic Audioslave encores. And he’s proud of that early catalog.

“We were so inventive as a band that the music, from album to album, was always fresh,” he says. “We’ve always been a band that’s tried really hard to never play the same song twice. And that, to me, is our secret — that there’s a real breadth to what we’ve done.”

Sans master plan, Soundgarden’s reformation began last year, when they played a quiet Seattle show as the anagrammed Nude Dragons.

“We were getting together to discuss doing a website and a merch line, because nobody could find a Soundgarden shirt or anything, anywhere,” Cornell says. Then they unearthed the “Live On I-5” tapes, and previously unreleased gems like “Black Rain.” “So us getting back together again happened naturally, from just talking about servicing the legacy of the band.”

The vibe now? “It’s a little strange, writing new music and continuing on as though nothing ever happened,” Cornell says. “But the more we’re together, the more we’ve started to realize that we’ve been through so much as Soundgarden. Because we really have.”

IF YOU GO

Soundgarden

When: Tonight, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, 99 Grove St., S.F.
Tickets: $59.50
Contact: (415) 624-8900, www.ticketmaster.com

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Tom Lanham

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