Friday, May 19, 2017

Concert Review: Chris Cornell at Reading, PA, November 22, 2013

One of the things that I most appreciate about the late, great Chris Cornell (man, it is still shocking to refer to him in the past tense!) and his incredible music and voice is that, unlike Nirvana and Pearl Jam, I have come to appreciate it more and more the older I get. In yesterday's RIP dedication blog entry, I mentioned how this particular death hurt me more - far more - than most. That was because I loved his music, but it was also because my son did, too, and this helped to create still another valuable and precious bond between us. We listened to and enjoyed his music, especially during our trips out west during the past two summers. Of course, he is not the only artist that we mutually enjoy listening to, as we also listened to the Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam, Seal, and the Beatles, just to name a few.

However, Cornell had a unique voice and a unique style. He had unique tastes, and this was reflected in his music. When you think of Soundgarden, you think of a band that played music that many, if not most, people would consider heavy metal. And although Audioslave also played hard or alternative rock, the two bands had distinctly different sounds. The Temple of the Dog album also sounded different than either of those two other bands, as well. As for his solo career, the music that he produced there was still very different in tone and style than any of the bands that he was involved with.

Here's the kicker: all of the music is pretty much brilliant! 

There is an obvious intensity to Soundgarden albums that made a clear impression on people, and moved them with raw power, with albums like Badmotorfinger and Superunknown. Although King Animal sounds different than either of those two, my son and I especially enjoyed this album, as the almost eerie sound to the music there seemed to compliment perfectly the sometimes eerie, open landscapes out west. 

Yet, we also listened to his latest (or now, depressingly, his last) solo album, Higher Truth. It obviously bears little musical resemblance to any of the Soundgarden stuff. Still, it also holds a certain intensity to it, albeit a different kind of intensity. It is nothing like heavy metal, but it is still powerful and moving in it's own right. 

The works that he did with Temple of the Dog and Audioslave are very much the same way. Different than any of the other stuff that he did, yet able to move people with the sheer power of the music.

And still, his eclectic musical tastes showed yet another side if and when you were privileged enough to take in a live show, as I was blessed enough to a few years ago. That was on the 50th anniversary of the death of John F. Kennedy, which seems a strange date, admittedly, to go and watch a show. However, I really, really wanted to see him, and that was pretty much the only show that I could really go to on that tour.

I took my girlfriend with me, and she was not really familiar with his music. I played a few Soundgarden tracks on the long drive there, and she did say that she knew a few of those songs, although only a handful. She was worried that it was going to be a loud night of what she described as obnoxious music, or noise, as she also sometimes refers to it. It would be clear over the years that a lot of the music that my son and I like fall into this unfortunate category, apparently. 

So naturally, I was worried that she was not going to like any of it, and would sit there, arms crossed, and endure the onslaught of songs that she did not like. However, it was an acoustic concert, so I held out hope that she would at least not grind her teeth too much, and that her ears would not ache.

Not only did she not hate it, she became a fan of his that night. She said after the show that he had a great, amazing voice! And later on, without announcing it to me, I saw that she had Liked Cornell's Facebook page. Clearly, the concert had made an impression on her!

Why? Take a look at the setlist below, and imagine a concert with these songs being done by a man with Cornell's incredible vocal range. He does some raw power songs from Soundgarden, and softens them with his acoustic guitar and his passionate voice, making them more accessible to an audience who might not particularly like the raw power of what was, admittedly, metal music, with a psychedelic edge to it. He did some material from Temple of the Dog and Audioslave, as well as stuff from his own solo career. 

Yet, he also covered some other artists, which included Led Zeppelin and the Eagles, which itself was not too much of a surprise or anything. But he also performed John Lennon's Imagine, which sounded great. And just to make sure that he caught you off guard, he also covered a Michael Jackson song, Billie Jean! All of it sounded amazing, and he lent a staggering emotional quality to each song with his voice and the expression that he brought to each. 

How could you not be a fan?

And so, because the news of his very untimely death (by suicide, apparently, tragically) is not allowing me to move on with more tributes on my end to the man and his music, it seemed fitting to republish reviews of the last three shows of his that I ever attended. Those would be his solo concert at Reading, Pennsylvania in 2013, then seeing Soundgarden for my second time at Jones Beach (New York) in 2014, and finally, the last time that I would ever see him, Temple of the Dog at Madison Square Garden with my son in November, on the day before the presidential election, when most people still thought the prospect of Donald Trump as president would seem remote (although I had that sinking feeling in my gut already).

Below is the review of the Reading acoustic solo show, originally published on November 23, 2013:

Chris Cornell has one of the most uniquely distinguishing and amazing voices in rock! I knew that already, but knowing that from the albums and the two prior concerts that I had seen him in was one thing.

Seeing him perform an acoustic show in a small, intimate venue, when he had to rely on his voice that much more, was something else!

First came Bhi Bhiman, the one-man opening acoustic act, who had an interesting style. His lyrics reflected a certain intelligence, as did the small banter that he offered in between songs. I am admittedly not familiar with his work, so cannot speak to what his setlist consisted of, except for the last song, which was a cover of "Walk of Life" by Dire Straits. He actually managed to get considerable audience participation, having them whistle parts of it, while he played it on the guitar and sang the rest. His voice sounded somewhat familiar, and for a good part of his set, I was trying to identify exactly why that was. Then, I remembered. His voice sounded a little like Adam Sandler at times. Not identical, or anything. But close enough to bear a passing resemblance.

Then, there was a surprisingly long time between the end of Bhiman's set, and the beginning of Cornell. It allowed me to look around and have a chance to admire the surroundings. The theater itself (which is called the Sovereign Performing Arts Center), is actually a very attractive theater, relatively ornately decorated in a style that would not seem totally out of place in the Sahara region of North Africa. I wish that I had had the presence of mind to take some pictures, but I was saving them up for Cornell. Plus, it would have seemed weird for me to come to a concert and then take pictures of the building. But it was nice.

Finally, Cornell came on just after 9pm, and opened with Cleaning My Gun, then Two Drink Minimum, before really seeing the expected strong audience reaction with Can't Change Me, the beautiful piece from his first ever solo album. He spoke about how nervous he had been before it's release, coming from a band like Soundgarden, and knowing people had certain expectations of him. But once he released it, he felt better, and never felt nervous again.

Good thing, too, because he has a definite talent for his solo, acoustic material. He has a great feel for translating raw emotion into song, with a perfect mix of music, lyrics, and vocal delivery. Again, his range is just incredible, and you really get to appreciate this when you see the man in a small theater like this (it seats about 1,700, in case you were wondering).

His set included a very good mix of material from Soundgarden, Audioslave, and his solo work, as well as some other stuff, too. He surprised me (in a pleasant way) by performing a surprising amount of Temple of the Dog tunes, including Hunger Strike. Now, that song, I had wanted to see performed live for many, many years. Having seen Pearl Jam two dozen times, you might think I would have seen it by now. But, nope. Not until last evening, that was, and boy, was I elated! He brought out his opening act, Bhi Bhiman, to help him out with that one (I heard one woman disparagingly say that Bhiman was not Eddie Vedder, but he was not terrible on the song, or anything), and Bhiman stayed on the stage for the next couple of songs after that, as well - Like a Stone, and Hotel California, an Eagles cover.

In fact, Cornell covered a surprising amount of other artists, as well. The Eagles,  Led Zeppelin, even Michael Jackson's Billie Jean! He closed the night out with a cover of Imagine by John Lennon, a song that seemed particularly appropriate given the significance of this date, the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination.

There was one song that was a cover, but it was one of the strangest covers that I had ever seen in concert before. He took the music from U2's "One", and mixed in the lyrics from the song of the same name by Metallica. It was a weird mixture, but somehow or other, he made it work. It took a bit of getting used to, admittedly, but by the end, quite a few people (myself included) were applauding loudly. Yes, it was experimental, but isn't that the point. He even joked before playing it that it might not work, and when that happens, you can just throw it out. But again, he made it work!

He talked quite a bit in between songs, as well, which added to the entertainment value. After performing Sunshower, he talked about how particularly nervous he had been releasing that one, again since he was coming from a band with a much rougher reputation, like Soundgarden. But now, he has adult men calling out loud for it, a song named Sunshower, which makes him feel much more reassured.

Cornell also mentioned that he had just recently moved from Seattle to New York, and asked if it really gets cold here. He joked, "It's going to happen tonight, isn't it." But he need not worry just yet, because even though it's been a bit cooler as of late, the really raw days do not usually come until at least well into December, and usually, more like January and February, and perhaps a bit into March, as well.

I had wanted to see him perform solo for quite a long time, ever since hearing Euphoria Morning, really. I had seen him once with Soundgarden at Lollapalooza, and once with Audioslave, when the band was really just coming out. But again, seeing him perform solo just shows a very different dimension to his work, which itself is quite diverse. Chances are, you will not be disappointed! I, for one, certainly wasn't!

My girlfriend hates pictures, and did not think she would come out nicely in them. But I think she looks beautiful, doesn't she?

Bhi Bhiman

Chris Cornell takes the stage.

Chris Cornell performing Hunger Strike with Bhi Bhiman.

Chris Cornell's Setlist from Reading, PA, November 22, 2013:

Cleaning My Gun
Two Drink Minimum
Can't Change Me
Original Fire  (Audioslave song)
Wide Awake  (Audioslave song)
I Am the Highway  (Audioslave song)
Footsteps  (Pearl Jam cover)
All Night Thing  (Temple of the Dog song)
Silence the Voices
Outshined  (Soundgarden song)
Doesn't Remind Me  (Audioslave song)
Burden in My Hand  (Soundgarden song)
Halfway There  (Soundgarden song)
Fell on Black Days  (Soundgarden song)
The Day I Tried to Live  (Soundgarden song)
One  (U2 cover) (Metallica lyrics)
When I'm Down
Wooden Jesus  (Temple of the Dog song)
Call Me a Dog  (Temple of the Dog song)
Hunger Strike  (Temple of the Dog song) (w/ Bhi Bhiman on guitar and vocals)
Like a Stone  (Audioslave song) (w/ Bhi Bhiman on guitar and vocals)
Hotel California  (Eagles cover) (w/ Bhi Bhiman on guitar and vocals)
Blow Up the Outside World  (Soundgarden song)

Thank You  (Led Zeppelin cover)
Billie Jean  (Michael Jackson cover)
Head Lamp  (improv song; made up on the spot)
Black Hole Sun  (Soundgarden song)
Imagine  (John Lennon cover)
Note: (9:01pm-11:33pm)

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