Cornell and his band practically blew the roof off of the best rock club just slightly east of St. Louis, performing an intensely delivered two-and-a-half-hour set.
Pop’s Nightclub, Sauget, Ill.
Few artists in today’s densely populated rock music-making industry have a resume even half as impressive as the one that belongs to Chris Cornell. From his beginnings nearly 20 years ago in grunge pioneers Soundgarden and semi-supergroup Temple of the Dog, to his all-too-brief stint fronting Audioslave, along with two sadly underexposed, very good pre- and post-Audioslave solo releases, his songwriting creativity has never shown any signs of weakness or stagnation. Once again, Cornell has recently introduced to the world his newest form of musical self-expression, teaming up with Grammy-award-winning top-40 producer Timbaland (Onerepublic, Justin Timberlake) and creating a collection of material that sounds like nothing he has done in the past. Touring quite extensively in support of the new release, Scream (Interscope) throughout North America this spring, and then in Europe for the summer’s first half, Cornell and his band practically blew the roof off of the best rock club just slightly east of St. Louis, performing an intensely delivered two-and-a-half-hour set.
In an effort to immediately familiarize the solidly packed, near-capacity crowd with his newly established style, Cornell began the show with the first two tracks from Scream, "Part of Me" and "Time." Then, going just slightly back in time, he followed up with "No Such Thing," the first song on his post-Audioslave 2007 solo release Carry On. "You Know My Name," used a few years ago as the theme song to a James Bond film, came next, and was followed up with Cornell’s best pre-Audioslave solo song, "Can’t Change Me," which should have been a bigger hit than it actually was. It then became time to really turn things up a few notches and kick the concert into high gear with some older, more widely recognizable material, which was served up consecutively: Killer versions of Soundgarden’s "Burden in My Hand," "Pretty Noose," and Temple of the Dog’s "Hunger Strike" were the perfect combination to give the crowd an auditory taste of what lay ahead.
The remainder of the show developed into a relatively steady upward progression, with almost every song, primarily Audioslave’s and Soundgarden’s best material, sounding as good as or better than the one before. Some of the finest moments included Soundgarden’s "Outshined" and "Show Me How to Live," an Audioslave scorcher that had many of the primarily-male audience members’ heads banging in unison with its hypnotic, bass-heavy beat. "Cochise," Audioslave’s first single, sounded amazing and was another big crowd-pleaser, as well as Soundgarden’s "Spoonman," which was a strong pre-encore set closer.
As a way of paying tribute to a band that has undoubtedly been a huge influence on Cornell throughout the years, he delivered a super-tight version of Led Zeppelin’s "Good Times, Bad Times" in full-band form; during the show’s two-song solo acoustic segment, a cover of one of Zeppelin’s best love songs "Thank You" sounded gut-wretchingly beautiful. The evening’s only other cover was Michael Jackson’s "Billie Jean," which he recorded on the Carry On disc. Cornell’s slowed-down treatment of that particular song improves its overall quality and appeal immeasurably. Another show highlight was an acoustic rendition of one of my personal favorite Soundgarden hits, "Fell on Black Days," which would have sounded better if there weren’t so much audience chatter.
Only a few brand-new tracks were played, sounding noticeably better in a live setting with actual drums than they do on the disc, which uses sequenced, digital drum beats. The first single and title track "Scream," definitely the disc’s strongest song, sounded so good that it probably won over the hearts and minds of even the most diehard Soundgarden fans.
A radio interview with Cornell earlier in the day revealed that he had recently given up his longtime smoking habit, probably the reason that his upper-range vocals sounded a bit strained. Other than during those occasional moments, however, his distinctive and unique singing voice is still essentially as strong and powerful as it’s ever been.
Credit for this show’s high-quality level must also be given directly to Cornell’s talented four-piece band, who have been his touring band since the demise of Audioslave. These guys are all top-notch musicians, each having significantly more than a little previous experience playing with various known and unknown rock groups. To my critical ears, they never missed a beat or note. The encore’s (and evening’s) final song was the psychedelically tinged Soundgarden classic, "Black Hole Sun."
It’s understandable that many of Cornell’s longtime fans are not enamored with his new musical direction and more commercialized sound. However, it’s unlikely that any of them, after witnessing one of Cornell’s marathon-like, 30-song performance, would dispute the fact that the guy still puts on one hell of a rock show, giving everyone in attendance above and beyond their money’s worth. | Michele Ulsohn