Thursday, May 5, 2011


I've been listening to Soundgarden's newly released Live on I-5 lately.  It's a collection of performances from their final tour from 1996.

I'd seen Soundgarden a number of times, starting with their Louder Than Love tour in 1990 (they were opening for Voivod, and Faith No More was first on the bill). That was probably the best Soundgarden performance I'd ever seen. I saw them open for Neil Young, Guns N Roses and headlining shows as well. I saw them on the Superunknown tour playing the New York Armory, one of the worst shows I've ever seen, mostly because it was the worst sounding venue I've ever been to.

On their last tour, also in '96, I saw them twice on Lollapalooza. They were touring for their last album, Down On The Upside, which I loved. But they just weren't that good. Ben Shepherd was looking like he'd rather be anywhere rather than playing to tens of thousands of people a night. And Chris Cornell's voice was sounding pretty awful. On record, especially on Superunknown and Down On The Upside, his vocals were incredible. Listening to him live, he was straining.  Those shows were a few months before the ones recorded here.

So, QUESTION 1: Would this really be a "live" album, or would Chris go in and doctor his vocals. Peter Gabriel did this on live recordings on the Genesis box set Archive 1967-1975, but his voice was so different all those years later, it was obvious that he'd done it, and it pissed fans off.

ANSWER: I am fairly sure that no 2011 doctoring was done. Listen to "Searching With My Good Eye Closed," he is straining, big time. His vocals on the studio version is, like, superheroic.  Live, he just couldn't cut it. He sounds similarly messy (and not in a good way) on lots of other songs.  I would love to get a live Soundgarden album from the late '80s or earlier '90s.

That leads me to my second question: given that this was the last time Chris sang many of these songs with a rock band (although he has done lots of Soundgarden with Audioslave and on his solo tours)... is this live album a terrible advertisement for their upcoming tour (many of the dates were announced earlier today)?

MY ANSWER: on its own, this live album doesn't really make a great argument to see the same band, 15 years later. We know Matt Cameron is still an amazing drummer, due to his many of years with Pearl Jam (he still is in Pearl Jam, BTW). Kim Thayil has seemed to be semi-retired since Soundgarden packed it up, but I bet he hasn't lost his serrated edge on guitar. I wonder about Ben Shepherd.  Back when he was younger, as is the case with lots of the bands of that era, he had an attitude about playing to large crowds.  All these years later, lots of those guys have had to return to their day jobs.  There have been stories that Ben wasn't in great financial shape (he clarified a bit after one magazine's sensationalistic take on his situation), I wonder if he will appreciate his good fortune now. But Chris Cornell would be the real question mark.

And you know my take on that: I saw Chris do a stunning solo acoustic show a few weeks ago, it was truly incredible. And while there is a big difference between doing a solo acoustic show and playing with Soundgarden, I think his is clean, clear and ready to rock.

So my final answer: I'm getting tickets.  I think you should also.

No comments: