The opening act for tonight’s performance is Welshman Paul Freeman, who has recently toured with Roger Daltrey and had his music used a number of television shows, so I am interested to see what he brings to this support slot. He enters the stage and draws attention to the fact that England are playing Ukraine, requesting updates on the scores during his set, making him likeable to the majority of the audience who have made the effort to leave the bar. A singer songwriter playing an acoustic guitar requires an immense talent and an innovative quality to hold my attention, and within the first song my mind is off and wandering. Freeman is a talented musician with a good voice and it is all very nice, but for me, there is nothing to separate him apart from the likes of James Blunt and many others; I am missing edginess and originality. However, within the second song a number of the audience are stamping along with the beat and after the show, I overhear a group of people, who were on the way to buy a CD, suggesting that Paul Freeman was to be the next big thing. I even struggled with his version of The National’s Bloodbuzz Ohio, as he didn’t bring a new dimension to the original; in fact the dark essence of the song was lost with Freeman’s sweet duet. A glimmer of hope emerged when he played a song that he had written in St Louis, which had a heavier element but even then towards the end I was contemplating what drink to order at the bar rather than being taken with the music. Considering his CV, I am sure that my opinions are in the minority and he did receive warm applause at the end of his set and maybe he is the one to watch.
Chris Cornell strides into Symphony Hall to rapturous applause, looking more than comfortable on stage without any other musicians and with minimal lighting shining upon him. Cornell has been involved with the music industry for nearly thirty years in various rock guises, most noticeably as the lead singer of the magnificent Soundgarden, and he is renowned for his vast vocal range which is one of the most extensive. The stage is arranged to create an intimate and homely setting, with a rug, a high leather chair, a phone, a record player and a large selection of guitars which enhances the relaxed atmosphere. After showing his appreciation of the venue and the positivity required to help England in the football, Cornell starts with an unreleased track from his time with Audioslave, Roads We Choose. Immediately, you get a sense of the quality of the performance that is to unfold; the sheer power of his voice fills the hall supported sensitively by his guitar arrangements combining to produce near acoustic perfection that has the audience in silence. This leads on to the first track from his latest solo album Songbook As Hope and Promise Fade, or Two Drink Minimum as it was previously known, which demonstrates Chris’s ability to use dynamics and accents to enrich the live experience. Between songs, Cornell engages with banter with the audience, encouraging people to request their favourite pieces and explaining the context behind the music often with a comedic slant, noticeably prior to Can’t Change Me.
The set includes a smattering of covers, such as Mother Love Bone’s Man of Golden Words that sees Cornell discuss the untimely death of his friend Andy Wood that leads beautifully onto a run of songs from the Temple of the Dog album. Wooden Jesus and Call Me a Dog are sung with an amalgamation of passion and reflectiveness that pervades such sincerity that is utterly engrossing; making you feel that you are the only one in the audience. He concludes the trilogy with Hunger Strike, despite the odd dodgy note during the first verse Chris Cornell has adapted the duet to allow the beauty of the original to flow in a manner that does not feel flat without Eddie Vedder’s voice. Fell on Black Days and Burden in My Hand illustrate the refinement and delicacy of Soundgarden’s lyrics and melody when the heaviness is stripped away, followed by Chris Cornell’s first solo recording for the Singles soundtrack, Seasons. This is a song I haven’t listened to in a long time and almost forgotten about, this was a welcome reminder that sent me on a journey down memory lane, as this format of show allows for contemplation.
Momentarily, Cornell moves away from the acoustic guitar for When I’m Down, and starts to use a piano backing track. Originally the track takes the form of vinyl that he plays on the onstage record player to add depth and allow the song to be performed as it was intended, which draws on jazz influences and sees Chris demonstrate the versatility of his voice, despite using a backing track the song takes on a laid back element. The use of vinyl reminds me of an interview I read years ago, where Cornell proposed that to hear Badmotorfinger as it was meant to be listened to, it has to be played on record. The use of record backing tracks continues with the track Scream, however, after this brief interlude, normal service is resumed. As the set continues, we are privileged to hear the weird tunings of Mind Riot, Cornell’s take on Led Zeppelin’s Thank You and Audioslave’s Doesn’t Remind Me. The final track is Blow up the Outside World which sees the warm white lighting turn to red, Cornell use a loop pedal and reverb on his vocals to create an emotionally intense climax, that clearly exhibits what can be achieved in an acoustic gig by a true artistic and creative mind. Chris Cornell leaves to ecstatic applause which is genuinely justified, as he has given one of the finest displays of acoustic musicianship I have ever seen.
Cornell returns to the stage for an encore that commences with Soundgarden’s anthem Black Hole Sun. I was hoping that this song would be omitted as it has become so overplayed and they have such an awesome back catalogue it would have been great to hear an earlier, lesser known track such as Hands All Over or Loud Love; but, then again, I am not sure either of these would have been such a crowd pleaser. Like A Stone flows into an admirable cover of The Beatles A Day in the Life and Lennon’s Imagine. It is well documented that Cornell was inspired from an early age by The Beatles but to finish on covers rather than his own music detracted from the brilliance of the main set. Nevertheless, Cornell has had the capacity crowd fully focussed for over two hours, through an exquisite vocal performance, superb instrumentation and jaunty commentary, and considering his obscene, almost offensive, good looks he could have got away with a far less polished show. Chris Cornell has managed to firmly establish himself as one of the finest voices in music irrespective of the genre or venue he is playing in.
Review – Toni Woodward
Photos – Katja Ogrin