With part of the crowd dressed in their Sunday best(Super Bowl Sunday best that is) and another part in Mad Season T-Shirts, the lucky Seattle show goers that had managed to find tickets were about ready to be treated to an incredible night. The scalpers patrolled 3rd Avenue trying to make a last-minute buck or two as the fans shuffled by heading in to the sold-out Benaroya Hall for Sonic Evolution.
Benaroya Hall is the home of the Seattle Symphony in Seattle’s downtown and while you’re a lot more likely to hear Mozart than Mad Season, that didn’t stop symphony director Ludovic Morlot from expanding the horizons and along with Mike McCready put together one of the most memorable nights in Seattle music history.
As the symphony tuned up and warmed up, the buzz in the air could be felt all around the spectacular venue, as the Seattle crowd shuffled around waiting for this one of kind night of music in the northwest. And make no mistake this was, for most people, a once in a lifetime chance for the music of Mad Season to once again be experienced live on stage. Of course we all know there will never be another original Mad Season but this was as close we’ll ever come. Original bassist John Baker Saunders died in 1999 and Layne Staley died three years later. Although the original band only put out one album, it is a much loved album in the northwest and beyond.
Morlot stated that the night will be a little bit different of a night for normal symphony goers and that brought a slight chuckle from the audience. The first song of the night was created just for the Sonic Evolution show and was influenced by Kurt Cobain. The conductor described the song as being called “Ashes”, from Kurt’s last letter….rather burn out than fade away. After several minutes I noticed a few people in the performance hall squirming but this piece was a great way to open the night. It sounded like a movie soundtrack that would fit Cobain’s life perfectly.
Piece number two was inspired by Pearl Jam and the writer was told to capture the energy, the sound and the philosophy of Pearl Jam but don’t copy the songs. One cool thing about that performance was the Cellist that played on “Jeremy” from the album 10 was on stage playing with the symphony. This piece had a terrific crescendo, actually a few of them that found the symphony members working themselves into a frenzy. Several minutes of what can only be called a beautiful piece of work and while I didn’t REALLY feel the Pearl Jam in there, it must have been.
After the two symphony pieces, Morlot once again took the microphone and this time went into detail as explained to the audience that one of the first people he connected with when he came to Seattle four years ago was McCready. He said they instantly discussed doing something like this show, so no doubt a lot of years went into this production. They had a dream to bring Mad Season back. Then he introduced Mike and his Pearl Jam bandmate Matt Cameron which drew the first of many standing ovations of the night. Morlot told the crowd that the Mad Season guitarist composed the next piece we’d be hearing by the symphony. It was called “Waking The Horizon”. Mike and Matt blended into the 50 plus people that were on stage and they began the epic composition. Together with a 12-person choral arrangement they proceeded to bring out goosebumps on the audience with McCready soloing flawlessly over the top of the symphony and it was pure guitar nirvana.
After a 20 minute intermission, round two of the evening was set to begin and as much as the crowd enjoyed the first part of the night, it was only going to get better and they knew it. Chris Cornell came out together with Duff McKagan along with Barrett Martin and Mad Season came back to life. From the first note of “Long Gone Day” they played it spot on and Cornell sang it brilliantly. With one of the most powerful voices in rock, some still wondered how he’d do covering Layne. He did marvelously. Dressed in a gray sweater, Chris found the right tone, glancing occasionally at the music stand, sunglasses on and little eye contact with the crowd in the beginning. He was feeling the music as were most of the people in the packed Benaroya.
The next song they played was “River Of Deceit” and the audience raucously applauded and yelled in approval as they started. Cornell once again sang it just the way it needed to be sung, he stayed within the song with very little embellishing and as Mike absolutely nailed the leads on his road worn and battered Fender strat, the Seattle people were in a trance. They’d been transported back into the mid-nineties if even for only a little while. Next up was “I Don’t Know Anything” and the attendees roared. This version of Mad Season absolutely captured the intensity of that song and killed it. When that epic three song volley of audio greatness was over the crowd once again gave a standing ovation and then went into the now infamous chant SEA______HAWKS!!!! Then the lighting operator turned the spotlight on Duff’s amp, which by the way, has had a green 12th Man towel on it since last year for good luck.
Next to come out on stage was Kim Virant from the 90’s band Lazy Susan and several other local projects. She quipped she was excited and a little bit scared at the same time but she quickly proved she had no reason to be afraid. She was an incredibly perfect fit for the next song which was “Wake Up”. Virant, wearing a black dress with sequins, absolutely crushed it, as Duff, Mike, Matt and Barrett backed her. As Mike played the leads Kim let the music enter her and she seemingly felt the music as much as she was hearing it. As Virant left the stage, Jefferson Angell (Walking Papers, Missionary Position) entered and took her place with Martin moving back to the drums.
Angell, as sharply-dressed and charismatic a frontman as you will ever find, knocked it out of the park on “Lifeless Dead”, then Virant came out once again, this time with Tim DiJulio (Lazy Susan, North Twin). Angell stayed on stage and they ripped into a version “I’m Above” that brought the house down. They rocked the fuck out of that one, all of them.
And as if the night couldn’t get any better, Mike announced that his Pearl Jam bandmates Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament were in the house. That’s when Cornell, Ament, Gossard and Cameron blew the audience away with “Call Me a Dog and “Reach Down” by Temple Of The Dog.
McCready had another trick up his sleeve, For the final song of the night he brought Alice In Chain‘s Sean Kinney out to close the night on the congas. Mike dedicated that song to Layne [Staley]….it was a beautiful Mad Season song called “All Alone” in which they sampled Layne’s haunting vocal track.
Final song of the night – MAD SEASON
Mike Cready, doubleneck SG
Sean Kinney, congas
Duff McKagen, electric bass
John Evans, vocal sample playback
Matt Cameron, drum kit
Artists that performed(in no particular order) Mike McCready, Chris Cornell, Duff McKagan, Barrett Martin, Matt Cameron, Jeff Angell, Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, Kim Virant, Sean Kinney and Tim DiJulio.
Seattle will be hard-pressed to ever see another show like this one, it was truly one for the record books.
Ludovic Morlot, conductor
Mike McCready, special guest
Chris Cornell, vocals
Kim Virant, vocals
Jeff Angel, vocals and guitar
Mike McCready, guitar
Tim DiJulio, guitar
Duff McKagan, bass guitar
Barrett Martin, drums
Sean Kinney, drums
Matt Cameron, drum kit
Josh Evans, vocal sample playback
Temple of the Dog
Stone Gossard, guitar
Mike McCready, guitar
Jeff Ament, electric bass
Matt Cameron, drum kit
Members of Vocalpoint! Seattle