With its ornately gilded cathedral ceilings and lush burgundy upholstery, the setting at the Beacon Theatre beared a strong resemblance to that of a Sunday evening mass. The crowd sat gathered in anticipation and as rock icon Chris Cornell took the stage, he was readily received with a standing ovation, one that began before a single note was even played.
Cornell was nothing short of flawless in his sold-out Sunday performance, the warmth of his richly soulful voice echoing into the furthest corners of the room, leaving the outdoor October chill a seemingly distant memory. Playing for just over two hours, his vibrant 25-song set was reflective of a career that has spanned several decades, incorporating songs by Soundgarden, Audioslave, and Temple of the Dog, in addition to his solo work and a few choice covers. It was a beautifully intimate show, intertwined with a series of insightful anecdotes about his music and his career, bringing the audience closer and further cementing the close-knit vibe within the room.
Cornell made his affection for the enthusiastic New York City crowd known, telling us, “You bring it to everything, New Yorkers bring it to everything, you bring it to ordering food.” Hailing from the musical mecca of Seattle, Washington, Cornell went on to give a charmingly comedic recollection of the first time he ever left the west coast, a far mellower environment by comparison, as he visited New York at the age of 22. “I went into a deli and these guys looked like they were fucking screaming at each other … and then I realized one guy was just kind of ordering a sandwich.” He continued, “If you did that where I came from, there would be a fight. You bring that into everything, and I like that.”
While Cornell appeared solo for the majority of the show, putting his outrageous amount of talent on display in it’s purest, most stripped-down form, a bit of additional instrumentation did appear in select parts of the set. “There was a guy outside trying to sell me a newspaper from six months ago and I decided to bring him onstage,” recounted Cornell. However, he was quick to clarify, “That’s not true, he’s a very accomplished musician,” before introducing Bryan Gibson, a multi-instrumentalist who has previously performed as part of the USC orchestra and worked with several other notable artists. Gibson’s delicate mandolin riffs on “Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart,” in addition to his rich cello backing on several other songs, provided an artful accentuation to Cornell’s own acoustic accompaniment and soaring vocals.
Pianist Natasha Shnieder later joined Cornell via record player in his performance of “When I’m Down.” After she passed away from cancer in 2008, he had her rendition of the song pressed to vinyl, so that he could continue playing to it in his future performances. Other times, Cornell was his own accompanist, skillfully using a looper to create intricately building outros on “Blow Up the Outside World” and “Higher Truth.”
There’s one very important thing to note about Chris Cornell. He doesn’t simply just cover other people’s songs – he has an impeccable ability to meticulously mold them into his own melodic masterpieces. Whether he was reinterpreting Soundgarden classics such as “Fell On Black Days,” and “Rusty Cage,” rocking tracks which traditionally feature thrashing electric guitars, or performing pared down acoustic arrangements of Led Zeppelin’s “Thank You” and Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” Cornell delivered a series of thoroughly impressive and, at times, unexpected takes on the originals. This was strikingly evident in his piercing reinvention of “Billie Jean,” as he spun the legendary dance hit into a haunting, waltzing lament that showcased his outstanding vocal range and implored the audience to keep a firm grasp on each emotionally-infused note.
While Chris Cornell’s solo set was quite a contrast to the frenzied shows he has performed with his other bands in the past, there was certainly no aspect in which it fell short. It was a highly impressive show that allowed Cornell’s talent to truly shine through, providing further confirmation that Cornell continues to get better with age and will surely mesmerize audiences for years to come.
Article: Nicole Shyti
Photos: Shayne Hanley