Chris Cornell brings his Songbook to Memphis
Being sick sucks, but it’s gotta be harder when you’re a musician best known for your voice, and it’s a certainty that Chris Cornell’s a man known for his golden pipes. Cornell arrived in Memphis on November 1 to kick off his Songbook tour, and along with an arsenal of guitars, Jeff Buckley’s red phone and a turntable, he was toting an obvious case of laryngitis. However, he soldiered on, joking about the ailment he picked up while playing with Soundgarden at the previous weekend’s Voodoo Music Experience. Fate would have it that the following night’s Nashville date would be cancelled, so those at the sold-out Memphis show at Minglewood Hall really lucked out.
Few voices have come across the radio waves in the last few decades that are as recognizable as Cornell’s baritone; his ability to straddle octaves while singing with Soundgarden was (and still is) legendary. His Songbook tour showcases his voice first and foremost, and it was quite a shame that he really didn’t have his A-game, but he still attempted to put on a great show. Judging by audience reaction, Memphis didn’t seem to notice the obvious strain on his voice; more likely though, they were so enchanted by the music that they didn’t care.
Following an opening set by Craig Wedren, Cornell took the stage in jeans and a jacket, high-fiving the group of fans who flocked to the front of the stage for their chance to rub flesh with the iconic rocker. After apologizing for his throat condition, he dove into his music . Over the two-plus hours that he was on stage, Cornell covered all eras of his career, and then some.
His music was well-received across the board — the audience sat attentively, actually listening to the music…there seemed to be very little (if any) of the increasingly annoying patron-to-patron yammering. But, it was obvious what the crowd was there to hear. While his Audioslave and solo material — songs like “As Hope And Promise Fade,” “Doesn’t Remind Me,” and “Sunshower” — was applauded vigorously, the Soundgarden and Temple of the Dog tunes had the thousand-plus bodies in the room out of their seats.
It was mid-way through the evening that Cornell dove into that portion of his career. “Fell On Black Days” was met with rowdy cheers, and “Hunger Strike” turned into a huge sing-a-long. It was a powerful thing to behold: the driving vocal force behind such huge hits stripped down to the music’s essence – a lone voice and an acoustic guitar.
It wasn’t just acoustic, though. He picked up his electric guitar once or twice, and on a powerful (but by this point in the show, a tad strained) “When I’m Down,” in lieu of accompaniment on piano, he dropped the needle on the recorded version of the music and sang along to the vinyl.
Cornell was in high spirits and chatty throughout the show, telling the stories behind songs like “Seasons” and occasionally replying to shouts from the audience. Before diving into a few classic rock cover songs (Led Zeppelin’s “Thank You” and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Long As I Can See The Light”,) he casually mentioned how he figured that since his voice was screwed up and he was butchering his own songs, that he may as well butcher some other artists’.
By the time the show was nearing an end, it was clear that the performance had been taxing on his voice. However, the set-closing take on The Beatle’s “A Day In The Life” was a show-stopper…while the tune that was heavy on production value in its day, Cornell’s solo acoustic version was, in stark contrast, stripped down, but all the more captivating.
Despite having to rise above laryngitis, Cornell delivered an overall great performance. His trademark falsetto scream was there when called for, and he was delicate when the songs warranted a softer approach. While his vocal condition clearly became a hindrance as the show wore on, Chris Cornell displayed why he was such an integral part of an entire genre, let alone a music scene. Memphis got a real treat because legends like Cornell don’t come through the Mid-South often.