Sunday, April 17, 2011


Chris Cornell’s local solo acoustic concerts – two at New York City’s Town Hall and one at Montclair’s Wellmont Theater – sold out almost instantly. When I went to a ticket re-sale site, the cheapest seats were twice as much as the list price. I decided to take the gamble – I’ve seen some great performances by Chris (notably on his tour for his 2007 solo album Carry On, and with Audioslave on Lollapalooza in 2003) and some that weren’t so good (most of the Soundgarden shows I saw). 

I’m glad I spent the bucks, tonight’s show blew me away. It was a great mix of Soundgarden, Audioslave, Temple of the Dog and solo songs, and a couple of incredible covers, including two Bruce Springsteen Nebraska-era tunes. 

The show was over two hours, but he only played four Soundgarden tunes – probably because he’ll be playing them in July, when the band finally tour

He opened with the great Audioslave song “Be Yourself,” and then went into “Ground Zero,” from his most recent (and much-maligned) solo album, Scream. Scream, of course, was slammed in large part because it was produced by Timbaland, and while I thought it was an interesting idea, it just didn’t work. Timbaland treated Chris like any other singer in his assembly line of hitmakers, and a lot of the songs just sounded forced. But “Ground Zero,” and the other Scream tunes, "As Hope And Promise Fade" (a B-side) and "Scream," came off a lot better stripped down of the huge arrangements. I'd love to see an acoustic version of that album ("Long Gone" is definitely a great song). 

He played lots of "hits" (Soundgarden's "Fell On Black Days," "Burden In My Hand" and "Black Hole Sun," Audioslave's "I Am The HIghway," "LIke A Stone") all of which took on a new life without the hugely muscular bands that he played with on those songs.  There were also lots of fan favorites, Temple Of The Dog's "All Nite Thing," "Call Me A Dog," "Say Hello 2 Heaven," his Singles solo tune "Seasons," and "Sunshowers" from the film Great Expectations. And some really unexpected selections, like Soundgarden's "Mind Riot" from Badmotorfinger (inspired by the first Gulf War) and Audioslave's "Wide Awake" from their final album Revelations (inspired by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina). Back in the Soundgarden days, Chris seemed not to enjoy being onstage, and while he has always been really charismatic, he was never what you'd call "warm." Seeing him tonight was an altogether new experience: it was fun listening to him talk about the songs, and discuss politics a bit. I remember reading that when he hooked up with the Rage guys to form Audioslave, one of his conditions would be that it wasn't a political band. But it seems that maybe he was influenced by his former bandmate Tom Morello, he was getting a bit political at points, which I'm totally cool with. At some points, he seemed as engaging as Eddie Vedder on a good night, or even Bruce Springsteen. And speaking of... 

About an hour into the show, he strapped on a electric guitar and played a familiar riff. When he sang "New Jersey Turnpike..." people went nuts.  He covered the Nebraska era classic "State Trooper!" And funny enough, it was the most Soundgarden-y moment of the night, and even veered on being Sonic Youth-ish. He looped his riff and started soloing over it, and then just played with feedback for a while.  It was intense and totally awesome. And that wasn't enough Springsteen for him, he closed the show with another Nebraska tune, "Atlantic City." Unbelievable.  Who even knew he was a fan? 

There were a few other covers: Led Zeppelin's "Thank You" (which was funny, I remember the guys in Soundgarden claiming that they weren't influenced by Zeppelin at all, which sounded hard to believe... and "Thank You" kind of makes up for Chris' "Whole Lotta Love" debacle with Santana), John Lennon's "Imagine," MIchael Jackson's "Billie Jean" and Mother Love Bone's "Man Of Golden Words." 

I remember last time I saw Chris, thinking how much pressure his band must be under to be able to play like Soundgarden, Pearl Jam (on the Temple songs) and Rage Against The Machine (in the Audioslave songs). To me, it makes much more sense for him to tour solo acoustic, and I hope he does more of this between Soundgarden albums and tours, if they are in fact back as a semi-full-time thing. 

I have to mention Chris' opening act, William Elliott Whitmore. Amazing. Do yourself a favor and check him out. Right after he finished, I went right downstairs and bought his album (for $20!  But I had to have it).  I'll be writing about him more in the future, I think. 


goldmacher said...

It was an awesome show, Brian. You did a great job in capturing it here for those who were not as lucky to see him with us. Chris Cornell has leaped up my list of artists to admire after this show.

Minority said...

thanks for reading and posting jg. the cool thing is, I really did see some pretty wonky performances by Chris (all in his Soundgarden days). even if you listen to the newly released Live on I-5 collection - all stuff recorded on their last tour - his voice doesn't always sound great. But now, he's clean and seemingly in a good place. NOt to sound cliche, but he does sound better than ever.