Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden, two acts presumably destined to someday be enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, proved to be potent pairing on Sunday.

The multiplatinum bands' co-headlining show at Shoreline Amphitheatre at Mountain View definitely lived up to its vast potential. The two groups delivered spectacular sets -- which was no surprise given that both traditionally excel in the live arena -- but what really made the evening special was the sense of synergy.

Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden are similar in many ways. Both acts craft brooding hard-rock tunes, feature magnetic front men and find ways to take the music to an even higher level onstage. Yet, they do those things in startlingly different ways. They complement each other in near perfect fashion, conjuring up similar vibes while coming across as distinct entities.

Soundgarden was up first, kicking into gear with "Searching With My Good Eye Closed" (from 1991's "Badmotorfinger") while still cloaked behind the stage curtain. The entrance -- or, really, lack thereof -- worked to create a delirious sense of anticipation among the approximately 16,000 fans in attendance. Finally, the curtain dropped and Soundgarden was off to the races.

The set ranged from the band's 1988 debut "Ultramega OK," with "Flower," to its most recent release, 2012's "King Animal," with "A Thousand Days Before." The group, which consists of vocalist Chris Cornell, guitarist Kim Thayil, drummer Matt Chamberlain (filling for Matt Cameron on this tour) and bassist Ben Shepherd, flexed its collective muscle throughout, making a convincing case that Soundgarden deserves to be ranked among the all-time best metal bands.


Advertisement

Cornell remains one of the most powerful singers in rock history, right up there with such heavyweights as Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant and The Who's Roger Daltrey. The difference is, of course, that Cornell is still in his prime -- which he underscores every time he sings such songs as "Outshined" and "Rusty Cage" (both from "Badmotorfinger").

Soundgarden is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the 1994 breakout album "Superunknown," one of the best rock records of the grunge decade. The Seattle troupe devoted much time to the "Superunknown" material, thrilling fans with such landmark cuts as "My Wave," "Fell on Black Days," "Spoonman" and "Black Hole Sun."

As good as Soundgarden was, however, Nine Inch Nails was even better.

The Nine Inch Nails show began in equally dramatic fashion as Soundgarden's set -- although drama was really the only thing these two opening segments shared in common. Trent Reznor, the band's ludicrously charismatic and talented lead singer, caused quite a sensation as he simply waltzed into view without a drip of fanfare. He made his way across a strikingly bare, brightly lit stage and zeroed in on his sequencer. He then ripped into "Copy of A," from last year's "Hesitation Marks," as his fellow band members slowly joined him onstage.

The group moved with all the subtly of a freight train, barreling through gigantic versions of "Sanctified" (from the 1989 debut "Pretty Hate Machine"), "Closer" (from the 1994 blockbuster "The Downward Spiral") and the latest album's "Came Back Haunted." Reznor, of course, led the way, howling through the lyrics like his life depended on it. He works the stage like he's possessed; it's both menacing and magical.

Nine Inch Nails brought the main set to a close with a double shot of "The Hand That Feeds" and "Head Like a Hole," before returning for the expected encore of "Hurt."

Follow Jim Harrington at http://twitter.com/jimthecritic and www.facebook.com/jim.bayareanews.