This week would of marked Chris Cornell’s 55th birthday, and what better way to celebrate one of the finest voices in rock history than by revisiting his singular talent captured in a live setting? Originally taped in February 2013 for a PBS special, this near two and a half-hour performance sees the band touring behind final album ‘King Animal’ while also diving deep into their back catalogue for some lost gems and rarities.
For the true believers out there - and there's no escaping this release is intended for those - this is as chunky a slab of grunge goodness you could ask for. For the casual listener, it might prove overlong and overwhelming.
The age-old question when it comes to live albums is wherever to handpick the material best representing a group's stage power or authentically drop the entire set, lags and all. At 29 tracks, including intro and outro numbers, the band's second live album proves an uneven marathon with flashes of brilliance.
There’s the first-ever performance of ‘Blind Dogs’ from the ‘The Basketball Diaries’ OST, an incendiary version of ‘New Damage,’ the closer on 91’s ‘Badmotorfinger’ not to mention the ever ass-kicking ‘Outshined’ with extra audience participation. With such a large running time, you get to hear ‘Rusty Cage,’ ‘Jesus Christ Pose’ and alt-anthem ‘Black Hole Sun’ spread nicely amongst the set. However, this also means you get nearly the entirety of ‘King Animal’ as well as some less polished renditions of ‘Fell On Black Days’ and ‘Drawing Flies.’
When compared to their contemporaries, Soundgarden were always a darker and more course outfit. None of the hidden Beatlesque melodies of Nirvana nor the grandeur of the Pumpkins. They played dank, sludgy rock backed by a voice like none other on the scene. It’s an intoxicating mix, but too many bowel shaking riffs over and over in succession and the impact is undoubtedly diminished.
Still, this release is for the uber-fan, as the 180-gram audiophile LPs and 40-page photo book editions can testify to. A few years on from his tragic death it's nice to hear Cornell in good spirits, sharing some banter with the crowd and giving a little backstory to select songs.
Of the many iconic groups to reform over the past fifteen years, Soundgarden moved admirably forward with a strong new L.P, and while the performances missed some of the vitality of their youth, they still were able to invoke a tone and vibe all of their own. ‘Live From The Artists Den’ stands as a unique snapshot, one of alternative music’s biggest names looking both back and forward with a smile.
Words: Sam Walker-Smart
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