Music Review: Soundgarden – ‘Live On I-5’

Live on I-5
CD | MP3
A&M Records
U.S. Release date: March 22, 2011
UK Release date: March 21, 2011

Soundgarden is a band almost impossible to neatly define. So diverse is the band’s sound that anything they try — be it punk, grunge, rock, acoustic — nothing sounds out of place. Like contemporaries Faith No More, they manage to mix all of these influences together while still possessing an identifiable sound. This keeps their audience guessing, not just from album to album, but from each track to the next.

On new live album, Live on I-5, Soundgarden keeps this excitement going. It was recorded at various U.S. and Canadian venues at the tail end of 1996, just a few months before the band’s eventual break up. Thanks to this, there is a definite sense of anger within the performances, which added to the band’s natural energy and power on stage makes for an intensely frenetic and hugely impressive live album.

From opening track, “Spoonman,” there is no lull in the quality of performance. Kim Thayil is a superb guitarist and his neverending stream of riffs and solo flourishes is like a hyperactive waterfall; the notes constantly spill from the speakers. Matt Cameron‘s drumming is a sound to behold. “Jesus Christ Pose” is particularly impressive. These two combined, along with bass player Ben Shepherd, define the unique sound of Soundgarden. Their instruments constantly charge along, but never clash or take over the song like on supercharged “Ty Cobb.”

Chris Cornell‘s voice is mostly terrific especially on “Fell On Black Days” and a beautifully stripped-down version of “Black Hole Sun.” Although he has probably kept the highest profile since the band split, fronting superband Audioslave among solo projects, Cornell has always sounded most at ease when he is singing Soundgarden songs, like he has extra energy and feeling for these tracks. His outstanding performance on Live on I-5 demonstrates the reason why.

A couple of non-Soundgarden highlights come in the form of brilliant covers of The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” and The Stooges’ “Search and Destroy.”

This is Soundgarden’s first live album and while for some it may have come too late, for others — myself included — the fact it is here at all is a very good thing indeed. While it is a great album on its own, there is no doubt that it was released to whet our appetites for the impending Soundgarden studio album. If that is the case, it has done its job very well.

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