First listen: Soundgarden’s ‘Live on I5’

I received an advance copy of Soundgarden’s first live album, Live on I5, today and it is currently playing on my iTunes as I type.

So how does this compilation of live recordings from the band’s 1996 West Coast tour sound? On first listen it sounds pretty dang good. I’ll write a full review of the record as it gets closer to the album’s March 22 release date.

For now here are a few observations about the record:

  • It’s tough to tell it’s a live record on a lot of songs because crowd noise is at a minimal, which is a good thing. The way the chosen recordings were mixed really showcases the band’s abilities.
  • The two covers — “Helter Skelter” and “Search and Destroy” — couldn’t be more different from one another. The latter is a slowed-down version of the Beatles classic only distinguishable because of its lyrics and the former is a more faithful adaptation of the Stooges track.
  • Each member of the band gets his equal due with guitar, bass and drum solos spread throughout the album. Chris Cornell gets his moment during a solo version of “Black Hole Sun,” which surprisingly is one of the album’s stronger tracks which is saying a lot because this record really is a tour de force of Soundgarden material.
  • “Slaves and Bulldozers” never sounded so brutal, and that’s a very good thing. The nine-minute-plus version is Soundgarden at its best. Other standouts include a incendiary “Rusty Cage” which Cornell dedicates to Johnny Cash, a fast and furious “Ty Cobb” and the excellent “Nothing to Say.”
  • The tracklist displays the band’s range with a good mix of older, heavier Soundgarden and newer, more pop-friendly Soundgarden. It would’ve been nice to see more older material like “Flower” or “Gun” represented but “Burden in My Hand” and “Dusty” make for nice transitions out of the hard and heavy Soundgarden and they mix well with the rest of the record.
  • You can tell at this point in their careers the members of Soundgarden were a well-oiled machine. There are few flaws upon initial listening and while every member of the band seems to contribute equally the star of the show is Chris Cornell’s amazing pipes. It’s great to have an official live document of Cornell’s vocal acrobatics.
  • The few flaws come in the form of the aforementioned shortage of vintage Soundgarden and a few tempo changes and slight rearrangements on some songs. Since there aren’t many live recordings of the band out there many of the group’s fans that didn’t see them live in the 90s might not appreciate some of the finer nuances of a live recording since they’re only familiar with the recorded material.
  • It much more of a vital purchase for fans of 90s Seattle music than  Pearl Jam’s Live on Ten Legs

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