Album of the week 04-2012: Soundgarden – Live On I-5

Chris Cornell’s solo acoustic live album – that’s a lot of adjectives to describe an album type – released earlier this week made me long for Soundgarden again. And so I put on ‘Live On I-5’ in addition to ‘Songbook’. This live album was released last year, shortly after the band’s reformation, but features recordings from the last tour before the split. And let’s face it; it’s never torture to listen to something Chris Cornell sings on. Hold on, I’m taking that back. ‘Scream’ was. This honest live document, however, is a pleasant listen.

Initially, I was slightly disappointed by some of the performances of the songs, thinking they weren’t as powerful as the studio versions. Apparently I have been brainwashed by all the overdubbed live recordings over the years. Mind you, I am not against studio overdubbing on live albums if it enhances the quality, but the true power of this album lies in its rawness. Not every note Cornell sings is pitch-perfect and the guitar interplay between Cornell and the chronically underestimated Kim Thayil has a certain looseness to it. Also, this album doesn’t have the explosive production that my favorite Soundgarden album ‘Badmotorfinger’ does have. But once I got used to all these things, it quickly became the Soundgarden album I spin most – apart from ‘Badmotorfinger’ of course.

‘Live On I-5’ comprises from performances from six different shows in the US in 1996, by far most of them recorded in Del Mar. The recordings I like best, however, are taken from a show in Oakland, including the frenzied version of ‘Jesus Christ Pose’ (just listen to Matt Cameron butchering his drum kit!) that closes the album. One of the songs was recorded outside of the US; the sped-up version of ‘Rusty Cage’ is from Vancouver. Most of the material is taken from the band’s last three albums ‘Badmotorfinger’, ‘Superunknown’ and ‘Down On The Upside’, but they cover The Beatles (a delightfully unrecognizable ‘Helter Skelter’) and The Stooges (a simply fantastic rendition of ‘Search And Destroy’) too.

The main virtue of ‘Live On I-5’ is that it reminds every listener of what a brilliant and unique band Soundgarden was. There’s a lot of variation among the material included, still it’s unmistakably Soundgarden. From the Black Sabbath sludge of my favorite song ‘Slaves & Bulldozers’ to the Punk aggression of ‘Ty Cobb’, from the effective rocking of ‘Outshined’ to the reflective mood of ‘Fell On Black Days’, often drenched in a Led Zeppelin-esque sense of limited psychedelia and a stubborn aversion against conventional time signatures and song structures, it’s still all instantly recognizable. And the finishing touch is, as always, Chris Cornell’s voice with its enormous range, expression and power.

As a side note, try and get a hold of the special 10 inch EP ‘Before The Doors’, which is basically a companion piece to ‘Live On I-5′. It contains recordings of soundchecks from the same tour, including a killer version of The Doors’ ‘Waiting For The Sun’. And if you still haven’t had enough after all of that, be sure to check out Chris Cornell’s ‘Songbook’. His acoustic version of ‘Black Hole Sun’ on that record isn’t all that different from the one included on ‘Live On I-5’.

Recommended tracks: ‘Slaves & Bulldozers’, ‘Jesus Christ Pose’, ‘Fell On Black Days’, ‘Search And Destroy’

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