Fifteen years ago, when I was lost in the labyrinth of my adolescence, there may have been a time where I would have jumped at the opportunity to hear Soundgarden rock out all of their greatest hits live on stage. And, fortunately for those that might still care, fifteen years later you can still do just that.
Live on I-5 is Soundgarden’s latest release; a compilation of live performances recorded in 1996 as the band toured the West Coast only a year before their split. It’s a glorified “greatest hits” album under the guise of a fan-placating archive pull. So if you’re still wearing wristbands, missing the days of Superunknown, and smiting the moment when “Black Hole Sun” won a Grammy and the whole world descended on your band, then Live on I-5 might be just what you’ve been waiting for.
It’s not exactly what I’ve been waiting for. I enjoyed the heyday as much as anyone else, but have since come to the decision that grunge is best served as a memory of the 90s and not a revival in the 2010s.
That’s not to say that Live on I-5 has nothing to offer. Looking only at the track releases in question, 1996 was a pinnacle year for Soundgarden. Chris Cornell’s signature powerhouse vocals were in peak form, the band was still a cohesive unit, and the success of Superunknown was carrying them through the zenith of the band’s career. For those reasons you can expect a hard-hitting mix of tracks that showcases the best of the grungy alternative rock that became synonymous with Soundgarden.
The problem is that’s exactly what you get. There are no surprises with Live on I-5. There are no special moments or eccentric performances that might have satiated the loyalists who have been desperately holding on to hope since the band’s 1997 demise. It’s power chords, thumping drums, and classic Cornell with his anthem pipes. What else is new?
The album opens on a rounded and full “Spoonman”, where Cornell axes along with lead guitarist Kim Thayil and pumps his perfect falsetto. “Black Hole Sun” will never cease to be a welcome throwback, especially as it’s performed here with a lone guitar accompanying an emotional and burdened Cornell.
But then other areas of the album sag to the point where their worthiness of live release even seems questionable. A cover of the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” is one of those moments, leaving one to wonder exactly whose idea it was for the track to enter the setlist. That’s all in addition to shaky and abrupt transitions from track to track as the album is comprised of performances from several different shows.
If you still cut holes in your jeans and spend your weekends in mosh pits, then sure, Live on I-5 might grant that perfect dose of nostalgia and be worth its weight in sticker price. But for the clean-shaven world, we’re going to have to recommend you save the cash and pop Superunknown into the CD tray when you want to revive some forgotten rebellious youth.
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