Recorded on the West Coast leg of their 1996 tour, Live on I-5 is Soundgarden’s first live record, celebrating the long-awaited return to the musical public for the grunge legends. And though a live album is usually an excuse to cash in on fans while not having to hit the studio, Soundgarden have done something ingenious: they’ve released classic live tracks. Live on I-5 gives us a portrait of a band at their peak, something more akin to a fan’s bootleg than a major-label release.
Immediately, the listener is in the shit of it, with “Spoonman” reintroducing the casual listener to the band they loved. From there, it’s one classic after another: “Let Me Drown” and “Outshined” follow soon after, along with heavier fare like “Searching With My Good Eye Closed” peppered throughout. The production can be iffy, with Chris Cornell’s mic swallowing up the band’s signature big-ass guitars, but what do you expect? Cornell’s voice is iconic, and who else could hit these toucan wails so perfectly? Kim Thayil’s groovy guitar sound still holds its own, and Matt Cameron’s drumming sounds as thunderous as ever.
Some tracks are pretty forgettable—the covers of “Helter Skelter” and “Search and Destroy” are interesting, but not vital—but “Fell on Black Days” sounds as strung-out as ever, and “Black Hole Sun” is practically acoustic, shedding the track’s MTV fame in return for a classic downtrodden vibe. A furious rendition of “Jesus Christ Pose” closes the album with a satisfying boom. Rather than pat themselves on the back for still being alive, the guys in Soundgarden went on a nostalgia trip, and honestly, it’s for the best. CHRIS KROVATIN