Great live album from the reformed rockers’ 1996 US tour.
Greg Moffitt 2011
The first ever live album from Seattle grunge pioneers Soundgarden should have appeared years ago, literally. Recorded at various locations during a 1996 US tour, Live on I-5 was intended for release the following year. Sadly, after the band split in April 1997, the tapes were left to gather dust on a studio shelf and even now have probably only been unearthed in the wake of last year’s reunion. We should be thankful they bothered: Live on I-5 is stuffed with searing performances from a band at the peak of their powers.
Although stitched together from material culled from several shows, Live on I-5 doesn’t suffer from the lack of cohesion which often blights live albums assembled this way. This says a lot about the band’s consistency, and although single-event recordings possess a unique aura, this 17-track set is a worthy document of Soundgarden’s glory days. There’s certainly nothing here which hints at a group on the road to self-destruction.
Opening and closing with hit singles may be an obvious crowd-pleasing ploy, but Spoonman and Jesus Christ Pose bookend a set littered with songs which will be familiar to anyone alive during the 1990s, never mind those immersed in the music which did so much to define the decade. From the hard rock swagger of Searching With My Good Eye Closed and Let Me Drown to the grunge-101 of Outshined and Rusty Cage, the band somehow bludgeon with the finesse they bring to moodier material such as Slaves and Bulldozers and Nothing to Say. Even songs from their final studio album, the markedly more lightweight Down on the Upside, sound vital and invigorating.
A slow-burning take on The Beatles’ endlessly-covered Helter Skelter and a run-through of The Stooges’ Search and Destroy shed some light on the band’s roots and on grunge itself as a somewhat unlikely hybrid of both establishment and anti-establishment elements. Like most music movements, grunge eventually ate itself, degenerating into just another fad. But in Soundgarden – as with Nirvana – it spawned a band beyond lazy labels and genre limits, and Live on I-5 is simply a great rock record, period.