Release of the Week Extra 30-2019: Soundgarden – Live From The Artists Den


Since I am trying to reserve the album of the week spots for studio albums as much as I can, Soundgarden’s ‘Live From The Artists Den’ seemed like a poor fit. However, it is easily my most anticipated release of the year so far and there has been a series of Chris Cornell-related reviews, so it seemed appropriate to cover this one in a slightly unconventional capacity.

‘Live From The Artists Den’ was filmed for the eponymous PBS program six years ago, on the last date of the American leg for the tour promoting Soungarden’s excellent comeback album ‘King Animal’. About an hour of the show was aired, but nearly two and a half hours of music was recorded. Some of the recent tracks surfaced on the ‘King Animal Plus’ re-release, but apparently, the fan base was requesting the entire show to be released. At least, that is what the sticker on the front of the releases suggests. Understandable, because Chris Cornell’s suicide rules out the possibility of them ever professionally recording a concert again. Fortunately, ‘Live From The Artists Den’ is excellent.

If you buy the Blu-ray, the first thing you will notice is how good the whole thing looks. The production team behind the television program records everything in high definition audio and video and that certainly shows. Sonically, the release is great as well, although I think Kim Thayil could have used a fuller guitar sound during the songs on which he is the only guitarist. In addition, the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles has an atmosphere that adds to the experience. Certainly more than the festival shows that have popped up on YouTube through the years.

What counts in the end, however, is the performances of the songs. And those are generally very good. The video of ‘Black Hole Sun’ that popped up about a week before the release is a tad misleading, as it feels somewhat obligatory; the rest of the show is mostly very good. Cornell’s voice suffers from slight bolts of end of tour fatigue at some points, though surprisingly less so later in the set than in the first few songs. Out of the Soundgarden live recordings that have been officially released, this might just be the most stable of his vocal performances.

The ‘King Animal’ songs in particular sound fantastic. And the set is built around those, as 10 out of the release’s 28 songs – the brilliantly titled outro ‘Feedbachhanal’ does not really qualify as a song – are from that particular album. ‘Non-State Actor’, the quasi-psychedlic ‘A Thousand Days Before’, the stomping 5/4 rhythm of ‘By Crooked Steps’, the hypnotizing ‘Rowing’, the somber ‘Bones Of Birds’ and especially the stomping ‘Blood On The Valley Floor’ and the gorgeous ‘Taree’ are all incredible in their performance. All of these songs are further evidence of how big a hole Cornell’s suicide left in the world of music.

Out of the other songs, it is notably the more obscure material that sounds best. Sure, ‘Spoonman’ and especially ‘Rusty Cage’ are executed fantastically, but long-time fans will be pleasantly surprised at how good the live premiere of ‘Blind Dogs’ sounds. The gloomy musical dystopia of ‘New Damage’ is one of the most taxing songs of Soundgarden’s ouevre vocally, but something pushed Cornell to rise above himself. Fans of the band’s pre-breakthrough days will be delighted by ‘Incessant Mace’ as the opener and remarkably good performances of ‘Flower’ and ‘Hunted Down’ later in the set. My personal Soundgarden favorite ‘Slaves & Bulldozers’ closes off the set in a crushing fashion, with Cornell once again pushing himself to the limit on that chorus.

Since PBS is a public network, it is not too surprising that so many songs missed the broadcast. The angry hardcore of ‘Ty Cobb’ could never make it past the moral guardians lyrically – something Cornell cannot resist to make fun of prior to the encores – and the almost funereal dirge that is ‘4th Of July’ would likely have been the least accessible thing ever broadcasted on the network. For that reason alone, it is amazing to have the concert available in its full glory. The setlist is as close to perfect as it gets and the performances range from good to incredible. A must-have for fans of Soundgarden and heavy music in general.

Recommended tracks: ‘Taree’, ‘Blood On The Valley Floor’, ‘Fell On Black Days’, ‘Slaves & Bulldozers’, ‘Rusty Cage’, ‘New Damage’

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