Review Summary: It's one of the most honest live recordings to ever appear in the 90's and it's an instant classic because of it.
Five years. That’s all it took to make Mad Season
into one of the most important supergroups to appear during the 1990’s. Composed of musicians from Alice in Chains
, Screaming Trees
and Pearl Jam
, Mad Season was a richly alternative approach to its members’ past projects. It wasn’t as heavy. It wasn’t as precise. But it was good. Damn good. Only one studio album was released by the band before it imploded, 1995’s Above
, but with the 2013 re-release of the record, the band’s sole live album was also released on DVD. Live at The Moore
documents the band’s final live performance before its official breakup following the death of bassist John Baker Saunders in 1999 (there were efforts in 1997 to continue the band without Layne Staley, due to his health, but they never surfaced). Mad Season proved their conviction to writing and performing what they truly wanted with Above
, and with that idea in tow, Live at The Moore
remains one of the greatest live albums to come out of the 90’s grunge scene. Beneath its dark and waning atmosphere lies a sense of fulfillment and enthusiasm; it’s the most pristine representation of this tragically short-lived supergroup.
Guitarist and founding member Mike McCready has proven himself a more-than-competent axeman as the lead guitarist of Pearl Jam, but Mad Season’s subdued, bluesy sound lets the musician tone down the revving solos and focus on groovy guitar lines straight from the books of Jimi Hendrix
. “Artificial Red” possesses a steady, waltzy pace, with McCready’s guitars bouncing nimbly around the beats, fluidly eliciting a jam-quality flow. “Lifeless Dead” has one of the eeriest of McCready’s guitar riffs, a dark hook whose obscure rhythm is more alien than anything he’s performed in Pearl Jam. Pearl Jam has always been McCready’s most palatable project, but Mad Season is a much more comfortable setting for McCready’s desire to color outside the lines. Mad Season might not have as tight a grip on songwriting, but it’s a big opportunity for McCready, who finally is able to let his inner Hendrix fan come alive.
The late Layne Staley is still a top-notch vocalist even when outside of his most iconic band Alice in Chains. However, while his vocal work in Alice in Chains, was sharp, intense and rugged, Mad Season was a way for Staley to express a quieter and more intimate side. Very rarely will Staley belt out a yell from the Facelift
side of the Alice in Chains origins. Fortunately, this subdued atmosphere is just as poignant; his quiet crawl into the incredible “Wake Up” is topped only by the song’s evanescent fade-out closer. It’s gloomy and unequivocally somber, tying in perfectly with the slipping-away heard at the end of the brooding ballad “River of Deceit.” But Staley doesn’t stay in that quiet mode too long; he manages to channel that Alice in Chains voice in other songs too, though not as razor-edged. His bluesy shake in the band’s cover of John Lennon
’s “I Don’t Wanna Be a Soldier” croons with unbound passion, a singer in an extremely natural element. Staley’s always aimed for a blend of the creepy snarl of Ozzy Osbourne with the blues-infused singing of The Doors’ Jim Morrison; Mad Season is more Morrison in that regard, but alongside his bandmates, Staley’s voice is in a near-perfect state.
Two songs that merge together incredibly well are “Long Gone Day” and “I’m Above,” both of which feature a guest appearance by Mark Lanegan, formerly of Screaming Trees. Lanegan is no stranger to Mad Season, even recording original material for the band’s 2013 re-release of Above
, and it really shows. The harmonies between the bluesy snarl of Staley and the baritone of Lanegan are shockingly well-synced, with both registers combining together like a perfectly mixed drink. The thumping of percussion from drummer Barrett Martin is cool and steady, a simmering circle of tribal drumming. The fluidity is furthered by the saxophones from guest woodwind musician Skerik, mystically riding atop Martin’s percussion. Skerik is a big part of Live at The Moore
’s lasting appeal; his open-ended sax melodies are downright superb in “I Don’t Wanna Be a Soldier”, a sound that makes the tracks sound improvisational and free in all the right ways.
The album does stumble a bit in the underwhelming “X-Ray Mind” and the love-it-or-hate-it simplicity of the ghostly “All Alone”, but the band closes out the show with the 13-minute ending jam, “November Hotel.” The closer is a blisteringly torrential jam, nearly twice the length of its studio recording, revving up in volume and intricacy throughout. More and more waves of McCready’s screeching guitar solos and Skerik’s warped saxophones grind alongside the slick, edgy rhythms of John Baker Saunders’ funky bass and Barret Martin’s jazzy drums. The track cools itself down on occasion, but the distorted shouts at the song’s ultimate climax channel a huge and satisfying burst of unrestricted energy. As the last live performance of Mad Season, “November Hotel” is downright flawless.
Live at The Moore
is one of those extremely rare instances where the live album is able to surpass the studio album. Mad Season formed as a way to jam with friends; the members had no intention of making the next Ten
, and the band became stronger because of that. Live at The Moore
is the best example of this band’s core ideology and the avalanche of talent put into it. From McCready’s rollercoaster guitar solos to Saunders and Martin’s creatively assembled rhythms to Staley’s airy cries at the microphone, there’s nothing fake or manufactured about this live recording. It remains a band at their most organic, a natural open-door policy where staying true to the studio standard is constantly dismissed. It’s an exciting and invigorating ride of a live recording that perfectly assembles a band exactly when and where they should be, no strings attached. As the ultimate sendoff for the band, Live at The Moore
is a near-flawless tribute to Mad Season, a band who got more accomplished in five years than many other bands do in thirty.