Chris Cornell has been called the most dynamic living rock and roller to come out of the Grunge Revolution. His distinct, nasal croon on Soundgarden’s 1994’s blitzkrieg Superunknown helped win the band two Grammy awards, and, after the band’s demise, pushed his next group, Audioslave, to platinum status twice in a row. And, as if we needed proof that he could do it on his own, “Can’t Change Me”, the single from his solo debut, Morning Euphoria, earned the singer a Grammy nomination for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance. It’s that voice that enticed an a mountain of metal fans to spend the final moments of July headbanging in New York City’s famed Beacon Theater.
“This part of the show is about you,” explained Cornell as he sat on a stool armed with an acoustic guitar and a microphone. “It’s about how long you can listen to a guy with a guitar on a stool.” In addition to the stool and guitar that appeared randomly throughout the show, concertgoers filling the three-tier theater were treated to a tour de force of Cornell’s 19-year rocking resume that included classic Soundgarden hits such as “Outshined” and “Rusty Cage”, the energetic “Cochise,” off Audioslave’s 2003 debut, more recent Audioslave chart toppers like “Be Yourself”, and enlivened versions of “No Such Thing” and “Arms Around Your Love” from his recent solo album, Carry On.
Cornell credited his band—two guitarists, a bass player, and a carbon copy of John Bonham on drums—with giving him the ability to tour the famous songs. “It’s because of these guys I can do it,” exclaimed Cornell. “So they mean a lot to me.” For their part, his backing band didn’t let the singer down for one minute. The lead guitarist spent most of his time on stage morphing between Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil and Audioslave’s Tom Morello—a tough job considering both Thayil and Morello are exceptional guitar players whose styles are nearly impossible to replicate unless you are, well, them. So it’s to their credit that the band managed to preserve the energy of Soundgarden’s “Outshined” before turning guitar-solo crazy to finish Audioslave’s “Be Yourself”.
Throughout the songs, Cornell, sporting a modest black T-shirt with a sparkling design on the back, ran from one side of the stage to the other, high-fiving almost everyone in the front row. Early on, in a touching moment, he brought his three-year-old daughter, Toni, and two-year-old son, Christopher, on stage to hold the mic as he belted out the closing verse of “Outshined”. After testing the crowd’s early ’90s Soundgarden knowledge with a forceful rendition of Badmotorfinger’s “Rusty Cage”, Cornell broke out the stool to play unplugged versions of “Can’t Change Me”, off Morning Euphoria, “Finally Forever” off Carry On, and Audioslave’s smash hit “Like a Stone”, from the debut album. “Like a Stone” ended with Cornell relinquishing his vocal duties to enthusiastic audience members as they sang, in unison, the lyrics “I’ll wait for you there, like a stone.”
Memorable moments from the show’s second half included a tribute to Robert Plant and Jimmy Page wherein Cornell demonstrated his vocal range by ending Audioslave’s “Doesn’t Remind Me” with melodic screams; the unforgiving power of Soundgarden’s “Spoonman” that blasted the crowd with G-Force intensity; the lighters and cell phones that illuminated the dark theater as Cornell crooned the Temple of the Dog hit, “Say Hello 2 Heaven”; and a cataclysmic wall-of-sound finish that ended with an ear-piercing scream akin to that of a banshee about to capture its prey.
Before the encore, audience members waited in wonderment, pining to see what other songs Cornell would pull out of his bag of classics. Whispers among fans began to circulate: “Black Hole Sun”! No, no, “Original Fire”. No, “Fell On Black Days”. No, maybe “Superunknown”—but Cornell surprised everyone by bringing back the stool for a tranquil version of “Seasons”, from the Singles movie soundtrack (a film in which Cornell also had a cameo appearance). He then dedicated Morning Euphoria’s “Wave Goodbye” to the late Jeff Buckley before ending with Superunknown’s smash hit “Black Hole Sun” and Badmotorfinger’s “Slaves and Bulldozers”. The show came to a close with a five-minute drum solo that would have left both John Bonham and Keith Moon very proud.