I have waited an awfully long time to see Chris Cornell and Soundgarden live. Not since 1996 have I experienced one of my absolute favourite bands perform the songs I grew up listening to. I had very good memories from that tour (promoting Down on the Upside), and have been keen to relive those moments ever since.
How spoilt do I feel getting to see Soundgarden (twice), and Chris Cornell solo in the space of a month? Very is the answer to that question. It was treat to be part of Download 2012 watching Soundgarden sub-headline for the mighty Black Sabbath, but it was nothing short of an honour and a privilege to be in the presence of Chris Cornell, his selection of acoustic guitars, a record player and a red telephone (I still have no idea of it’s purpose) live in London
The London Palladium was –the- perfect setting for this show. The venue was superb! Beautiful doesn’t quite cover it. Sound-wise, it was clear and the acoustics were perfect. I feel the need to mention this as many venues have awful sound, which often dilute the performance. Thankfully, this was far from the case here.
Support came from Welsh folk-pop artist, Paul Freeman. Having not heard anything Freeman had produced before, I really didn’t know what to expect. Wow! What a voice! This guy does acoustic very well indeed! He kept the crowd engaged throughout his set, and whet the audience’s appetite for the main course. Paul Freeman was the perfect artist to support Chris Cornell on this tour and I shall certainly be checking out some of his material on the basis of this performance.
Chris Cornell’s Songbook tour started off in the Spring of 2011. His first live solo album was born off the back of that tour, where he played acoustic variations of songs that spanned his entire career – and what a career that has been! Songbook was my top album of 2011 and I was keen to hear it live. Would it be as good? That question really never entered my head if I am honest.
Walking on stage casually wearing jeans and a plain white T-shirt, this already felt like a very cherished gig stripped of any bells and whistles. This, whilst being incredibly personal and intimate, didn’t leave much room for mistake. Especially when all Cornell had to hide behind was an acoustic guitar. No Matt Cameron, Ben Shepherd or Kim Thayil. No electronic instruments. Nothing.
With over 20 years of material to chose from, and an musical CV which includes fronting Soundgarden, Audioslave and Temple of the Dog, as well as an ongoing solo career, it was intriguing to know which songs would be chosen for tonight. As soon as he appeared on stage the crowd were calling out for their favourites. The intimate nature of this gig meant that Cornell could interact with the crowd, and he did this continuously throughout the evening. Not only can the dude sing, but he also has a fair amount of charisma under that “grunger” angst exterior.
After the vocalist thought he heard someone shouting out ‘Transylvania’, he proceeded to create an impromptu ditty surrounding the region. Musically, Chris Cornell was pitch perfect throughout, taking the vocal gymnastics his songs demand in his stride. Scar on the Scar opened the show, followed by As Hope and Promise Fade – a personal favourite song of mine which really showcases his amazing vocal talent. Ground Zero was next – where Cornell suggested that the blame for that album be directed at him and not Timberlake (‘He didn’t break in to my home and make me do it”)… It was all very comical, although I am still unsure I can shake the disturbing image of seeing Chris Cornell on MTV Base (I was flicking through channels, for your information). As I pointed out on my Songbook review – the Scream songs actually sound ok without that terrible Timberland beat bopping away in the background.
Audioslave’s Wide Awake was followed by the first cover of the night – Man of Golden Words – originally by Mother Love Bone. Obviously a song close to Cornell’s heart (Chris and the late MLB vocalist, Andrew Wood were friends and roomates), this cover brought a tear to my eye. I am sure Andy would have been smiling down from above at his words being sung so beautifully in such a superb venue. This was neatly followed by three Temple of the Dog songs – Wooden Jesus, All Night Thing and Hunger Strike, Whilst we didn’t have Eddie Vedders, contrasting vocals on the latter, it still worked remarkably well. Sweet Euphoria from Cornell’s first solo effort ‘Euphoria Morning’ was simply magical. Followed by two Soundgarden songs (Fell on Black Days and Burden in my Hand), which more than satisfied us SG fans in the audience. Seasons is one of those songs that just demands attention and takes you on a journey. Fantastic song! The rest of the thirty song set (yes. THIRTY!) included more Soundgarden (Outshined, Blow up the Outside World, Black Hole Sun), Audioslave (I am the Highway, Like a Stone, Doesn’t Remind Me ad Getaway Car), Temple of the Dog (Call Me a Dog, Say Hello 2 Heaven), as well as some of his solo material (When I’m Down, Sunshower, Scream and Cleaning my Gun), and a sprinkling of covers (Thank You originally penned by Led Zeppelin, the now infamous Chris Cornell version of Billie Jean, and A Day in the Life by The Beatles).
All in all, this was the gig of my life! I got to see my favourite artist, whispering distance away, singing the songs that have been with me through 20 years. Fangirl-ism aside, this was a musically superior experience. Cornell managed the difficult and intimidating task of entertaining a crowd whose entire attention was on him. Vocally, he is on fire! Not only was the evening as close to a musical orgasm as you’re likely to get, it was also funny, entertaining on many levels and it was nice to have a seat for once!
If you are a fan of Chris Cornell already – Congratulations on your exquisite music taste. If not, then may I urge you to pick up his CD (or better, vinyl), pop it on, close the curtains and just immerse yourself in the music.
Chris Cornell is one of the very best storytellers, songwriters and musicians of our generation. Here’s to another 20-plus years!