Monday, November 23
As with Chris Cornell’s previous show in the same venue (four years ago – Cornell didn’t seem to remember being here previously) he had the songs from his old bands Soundgarden and Audioslave to choose from, a range of covers, the material from his own solo record and that fan-favourite “supergroup” Temple of the Dog. Even with all of that to work with it’s still quite amazing how Cornell can effortlessly fill a two-hour set, mostly just that towering, powerful voice and his own guitar. Some decent banter, a bit of humour, but it’s all about hearing that incredible instrument – his vocal prowess so well suited to the acoustic format too, soaring through and above the music.
Since his last solo performance there has been one new Cornell solo album, and a selection of songs from Higher Truth gave this set a whole new feel. In fact even when he did play the songs we knew, loved and flat-out expected (Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun and Blow Up The Outside World, Audioslave’s I Am The Highway, Temple of the Dog’s Hunger Strike) it still had the feel of a brand new set, no retreads. That’s because to hear Chris Cornell live is really quite thrilling, often spine-tinglingly chilling.
Once again When I’m Down was a highlight, Cornell stood with the microphone and sang his own torch-ballad accompanied by the original piano track spinning on the record player on stage.
For this tour he was accompanied on roughly half the songs by cellist Bryan Gibson. This certainly gave the show a different feel and Gibson’s arranging and playing prowess is formidable, helping to give extra shape to the phenomenon known as The Chris Cornell Cover. You see, Cornell can cover anything. Anything at all. And he doesn’t need to do anything much to it – simply serve it up. His well-worn versions of Billie Jean, Imagine and Redemption Song work because people know and love the songs. And because it’s Cornell singing these particular versions. But more impressive in this set were the versions of Prince’s Nothing Compares 2 U and The Beatles’ A Day In The Life. Again, it’s (just) Cornell singing songs he loves but Gibson was able to supply melodic grace and basslines via his cello.
Even the reworking of Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changin’ (with modernised lyrics care of Cornell) was a great treat and tribute to the original.
You hear heartbreak and wariness in his voice, you get hints of trouble and sorrow – but the way he uses that voice, the way he sings, the way it soars, it always feels like a celebration.
This review first appeared in The Dominion Post and online at Stuff here