April 5, 2011
In the world of music, there is little that can be considered new. Most things have been done twice. Tours are well-oiled, efficient machines. Often presentations become plastic.
Then, in the middle of the redundant haystack, one comes across a literal gem of a needle, making the search for the sound worth more than words can describe. On this night, the proverbial needle was Chris Cornell, who brought his retrospective "Songbook Tour" to Atlanta’s Center Stage for a night that shone like a stainless coin under the rays of a black hole sun.
Sharing the stage as an opening act was William Elliott Whitmore, who took the stage in his classic way – just his guitar, banjo, and bass kick drum. Whitmore growled with the ferocity and tone of a punk bluesman and spoke with the kindness of a Southern gentleman. Lyrically, his songs possessed just the right amount of grab and caress for an audience that was mainly filled with grungers turned adult…still rebellious at their core but settled into a life that requires conformity.
Chris Cornell took the stage to roaring applause, his lankiness and unassuming demeanor disguising the beast of a voice that remains omnipresent in the minds of millions. The tour sold out almost instantly, but there was not a shred of grandiosity to be seen on the stage. Rather, after a humbled and gracious "thank you," the Soundgarden vocalist immediately took to storytelling, and that would remain the format throughout the night.
Before even strumming his guitar, Cornell took the microphone and gave details of the origin of "I Promise It’s Not Goodbye"; explaining that the song was penned after a dying gentleman shared with Cornell how he helped his young daughter cope with her grief, knowing her father’s time limited. It was clear that the evening would be an exposition of the soul that shed light into the sometimes deep and occasionally shallowness of Cornell’s extensive written catalog.
The evening progressed and as it did, so did the recollection of just how many tunes Cornell has brought to the world of music, both as soloist and frontman. From stripped down renditions of Soundgarden classics like "Fell on Black Days" (that included a guest appearance from cello player Brian Gibson) and "Black Hole Sun" to Audioslave numbers including "I am the Highway" and "Like a Stone," Cornell’s voice filled the hall with the same rawness and pitch defiance that barreled onto the Seattle scene in the early 90s. But it was his continued homage to Mother Love Bone vocalist Andrew Wood that was most touching.
Wood was groomed to be Seattle’s star. He had glam and the voice of a bird. With a backing band that included Pearl Jam’s Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard, his future was bright. Unfortunately his life was one of the first from that scene to be cut short by heroin. It was from his untimely death and from Wood’s "Man of Golden Words" lyric "wanna show you something like the joy inside my heart…seems I’ve been living in the temple of the dog" that the band of the same name (Temple of the Dog) was born.
Temple of the Dog was a tribute to Wood whose members consisted of Cornell, Ament, Gossard, and Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready and Eddie Vedder. It was only fitting that Cornell played Mother Love Bone’s "Man of Golden Words" on the heels of the Dog’s "Say Hello 2 Heaven." The pain still sounded fresh as he sang Wood’s lyrics that go on to express Wood’s deep seeded love for music. After the second stanza, the song segued into Pink Floyd’s "Comfortably Numb," which seemed to be a statement from Cornell about his dear friend’s painful addiction and fall from grace…things Cornell has surely seen a lot of throughout his tenure as a musician.
Cornell peppered the set with covers and other original gems including a beautifully-played rendition of Cornell’s number from the Great Expectations soundtrack, "Sunshower," and the night rounded out with a cover of Beatles classic "A Day in the Life." It was a fitting closer, considering the audience had just been taken for a ride throughout a 20-year career that has "survivor" written all over it.
On its whole, the evening was magic. To see a founder of a genre on an intimate, stripped down stage – just Cornell, his guitar and a record player for recreation of piano sounds – was a treat. There was zero hoopla. There was music, and it spoke for itself. Cornell is a guy who made it through, to experience what many of his early cohorts never did. He is a husband. He is a dad. And he has still has one hell of a voice.
CLICK THE THUMBNAIL TO VIEW THE PHOTOS from the evening with Chris Cornell by David Shehi
I Promise It’s Not Goodbye, Wide Awake*, Can’t Change Me, Two Drink Minimum, Call Me A Dog**, Sunshower, Fell on Black Days***, Like Suicide***, I Am the Highway*,When I’m Down, All Night Thing**, Say Hello 2 Heaven**, Man of Golden Words^, Comfortably Numb^^,Mind Riot***, Burden in My Hand***, Like A Stone*, Doesn’t Remind Me*
Encore: Ticket to Ride^^^ Scream, Billie Jean###, Black Hole Sun***, Imagine#, Thank You##,
Encore 2: Cleaning My Gun, A Day In The Life^^
*Audioslave **Temple of the Dog ***Soundgarden ^Mother Love Bone ^^Pink Floyd ^^^ The Beatles # John Lennon ## Led Zeppelin ### Michael Jackson