“No one sings like you anymore.”
So goes a line in “Black Hole Sun,” probably the most well-known composition by the hard rocking singer-songwriter Chris Cornell, otherwise known as He of the Thousand Yard Yowl. That voice was in spectacular form during last week’s sold-out show in The Egg’s Hart Theatre, making for a heady, if somewhat overlong, night of dark, acoustic rock that at its best harkened back to the days when giants like Zeppelin walked the Earth.
Pre-show, I was expecting a pretty dour time – I mean, whenever I was feeling a bit fed up with things as a youngster of the ’90s, there was nothing (outside of Nirvana) that was better than blasting “Rusty Cage” or “Blow up the Outside World.” But in concert last week Cornell’s sense of humor was ever-present between songs, whether it was self-deprecations about his bad posture, or a somewhat embarrassing tale of running into the surviving members of Lynryd Skynyrd at the airport on the way to a gig (Cornell whines to them how he doesn’t like air travel, only to remember later about the band’s tragic history in that regard).
The humor seemed to heighten the delivery of the songs themselves – Cornell is one for open modal tunings that bring both a sense of heft and mystery, and each song – especially the hoary radio hits like “Hunger Strike” and “Burden in My Hand” – had a chance to breathe its darkness into the open space of The Egg. With the help of some subtle delay and reverb on both the guitar and vocals, “Black Hole Sun” and “Seasons” went to spooky and trippy places they never go in their more familiar versions.
Still, the most affecting moments were when Cornell decided to take a sonic left turn – on record, his solo tune “When I’m Down” is a piece of bluesy bombast. But last Thursday, he pulled out a piece of vinyl, which held only the piano accompaniment of his colleague, the late Natasha Shneider. With only his departed friend accompanying him from the turntable, Cornell delivered a memorable and wistful performance of longing and regret.
His version of Led Zeppelin’s “Thank You” was a bit too straight-forward, and actually highlighted the slightness of the tune’s lyrics and construction (Zeppelin would of course go on to make love songs that were a hundred times better than that halting first attempt from their second album), but a dirge-like and insinuating version of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” made for another unexpected highlight.
Much of Cornell’s studio work, especially post-Soundgarden, has suffered from over-production. This very effective acoustic visitation to each stage of his writing and performing career reflected favorably on the range and scope of his canon, reaffirming his status alongside the more critically-acclaimed rock musicians of his generation.
Review by Mike Hotter
Kirsten Ferguson’s review at Metroland
Greg Haymes’ review at The Times Union
Excerpt from Brian McElhiney’s review at The Daily Gazette: “But ‘Fell on Black Days,’ the evening’s first Soundgarden song, was where the crowd really lost it. Always one of the band’s most haunting numbers, in this setting the song was downright disturbing, in a good way. He then reached back even further to Temple of the Dog, playing ‘Call Me a Dog,’ ‘Hunger Strike’ and ‘Wooden Jesus’ in quick succession. Another highlight was the twisting ‘Seasons,’ one of Cornell’s first-ever acoustic forays from the 1992 soundtrack to the film ‘Singles.’ And speaking of twisting, a Soundgarden deep cut, ‘Mind Riot,’ showcased Cornell’s inventive use of tunings and unusual song structure.”
CHRIS CORNELL SET LIST
Scar On the Sky
Two Drink Minimum
Can’t Change Me
Be Yourself (Audioslave)
Wide Awake (Audioslave)
Fell On Black Days (Soundgarden)
Call Me a Dog (Temple of the Dog)
Hunger Strike (Temple of the Dog)
Wooden Jesus (Temple of the Dog)
Nilla Wafers (improv)
Thank You (Led Zeppelin)
When I’m Down
Mind Riot (Soundgarden)
Burden in My Hand (Soundgarden)
Black Hole Sun (Soundgarden)
Billie Jean (Michael Jackson)
Like a Stone (Audioslave)
Doesn’t Remind Me (Audioslave)
I Am the Highway (Audioslave)
Redemption Song (Bob Marley)
As Long as I Can See the Light (Creedence Clearwater Revival)
Imagine (John Lennon)
Blow Up the Outside World (Soundgarden)
CRAIG WEDREN SET LIST
Do You Harm
Love My Way (Psychedelic Furs)