In an interview conducted on A&M Records’ Hollywood lot around the release of Soundgarden‘s pivotal 1991 album, Badmotorfinger, bandleader Chris Cornell summed up the iconic Seattle quartet’s approach to working in the studio: “We’ve always been looking to capture what we sound like live on tape. I think that’s what most rock bands try for — and that’s probably most rock bands’ biggest problem when it comes to recording a record.”
It was a curious statement considering that, if anything, Soundgarden had the opposite problem. Known for its signature brand of heaving, de-tuned muscularity, Soundgarden also played a counterbalancing sense of agility to supreme advantage on record. In concert, however, the band routinely stumbled, more weighed down than liberated by its own bulk, to say nothing of the fact that Cornell had trouble matching the piercing wail of his studio vocals.
Fortunately, Soundgarden’s onstage flaws recede to the background on this newly assembled live album. Comprised of recordings from a string of West Coast dates in November and December of 1996, Live on I-5 reveals that Soundgarden, captured here just months before breaking up, was a surprisingly limber and inventive unit. Unbeknownst to the band members themselves — or to recording engineer Adam Kasper, who also manned the boards for Soundgarden’s final studio album, Down on the Upside — these performances would be Soundgarden’s last in the continental USA.