The latest in Seattle Symphony’s Sonic Evolution series was packed with a mind-bending bill of musicians and songs, writes Charles R. Cross: a reunion of Mad Season plus members of Temple of the Dog and a touching tribute to Layne Staley.
Roll over, Beethoven, dig Seattle’s McCready blues. Those doctored Chuck Berry lyrics could serve as a one-line review of Friday’s Sonic Evolution show at Benaroya Hall, which featured Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready playing with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. But one word could also work: Bravo!
Friday’s program was the fifth year of SSO music director Ludovic Morlot’s innovative Sonic Evolution series, where pop musicians write original symphonic works, and the evening salutes Seattle music legends.
This year’s show began with Yann Robin’s “Ashes,” inspired by Kurt Cobain, and Angelique Poteat’s homage to Pearl Jam “Beyond Much Difference.” Both were world premieres, and were artful classical works.
Morlot then brought on McCready and Pearl Jam drummer Matt Cameron for McCready’s “Waking the Horizon.” It featured dynamic cello work, McCready’s ethereal guitar playing, plus a crunchy drumbeat reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.” For the guitarist’s first symphonic composition, it was a hit.
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Next the Symphony played three Mad Season songs joined by McCready, Mad Season drummer Barrett Martin, Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell, and bassist Duff McKagan. “River of Deceit” was haunting, followed by “I Don’t Know Anything,” before the formal program ended with a rousing “Long Gone Day.”
The Symphony departed, but the night was hardly over. For the next hour the lineup changed every song with a parade of legendary Seattle musicians. Kim Virant sang Mad Season’s “Wake Up,” and Jefferson Angell followed with a dark “Lifeless Dead.” Angell and Virant then sang “I’m Above” as a duet, which had the crowd on their feet.
Though it seemed hardly possible, the show got even better. Cornell returned for two more songs, backed by McCready, Cameron, plus Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam. It was essentially a Temple of the Dog reunion, minus Eddie Vedder. Cornell’s voice never sounded better.
The night ended with one last Mad Season song, “All Alone,” using Layne Staley’s taped vocals. McCready spoke on how the evening was meant to be an honor for Staley. It was a chilling and moving finale to a historic concert with two reunions of long-gone but much-loved Seattle bands.
At the start of the program Morlot said it had been his “dream” to bring back the music of Mad Season. Friday night’s show, for any fan of Seattle music, was a beautiful dream come true.