Chris Cornell @ Newcastle City Hall, 20th June 2012
Last week all eyes were very much focused on Sunderland and The Stadium of Light as Springsteen fans awaited the long return of Thee Boss to the region, his first visit in 27 years. Because of this significant event on the North East musical calendar, it actually meant that little attention was given to another gig taking place the day before in Newcastle, by another iconic and hugely influential songwriter, Chris Cornell.
The Soundgarden front man came to the toon as part of a mini UK solo tour (his first ever) to perform stripped down acoustic versions of his extensive back catalogue that spans 25 years and includes songs written for Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, Audioslave, three solo albums as well as material he has contributed to film soundtracks over the years.
The Seattle born singer was one of the founding fathers of Grunge and alongside his peers Curt Cobain, Layne Stayley and Eddie Vedder created a scene and a sound that still pervades alternative rock music. Arguably the ‘best voice in rock’ today, Cornell is perhaps the only person who has come close to sounding as good as Robert Plant did in the 60s/70s – his falsetto and vocal belting styles give his songs an emotional intensity that is rarely heard now.
Cornell was on top form on Wednesday. Following a successful show at Download Festival with the recently reformed Soundgarden, he arrived in Newcastle to perform his final UK solo show and fans were treated to an incredible two hour gig that included pretty much all of his most well known songs. Kicking off with his 2007 single ‘Roads We Choose’, he focused initially on solo material including his response to 9/11, ‘Ground Zero’. The political theme was kept up early on, with Audioslave’s ‘Wide Awake’, a track that criticises the Bush administration’s failure to respond adequately during the initial aftermath of the Hurricane Katrina disaster – Cornell screaming the emotive chorus “I find you guilty of the crime of sleeping at a time, when you should have been wide awake”. It is the Audioslave songs in particular that benefit most from the stripped down acoustic approach – 2004 single ‘Like a Stone’ sounding fresh and better fitted to the ‘waiting for death’ theme.
Three tracks from tribute album ‘Temple of the Dog’ were aired including the anthemic ‘Call Me A Dog’ and ‘Hungerstrike’ as well as various from Soundgarden – notably ‘Fell on Black Days’ and ‘Black Hole Sun’ as well as ‘Outshined’, which was requested by a young audience member called Ben who was invited on the stage to play guitar while Cornell sang – the kid was brilliant and you can see the performance on YouTube! The surprise on the night was his first ever solo release ‘Seasons’, written for the 1991 film ‘Singles’ – a movie set in and around the early Seattle grunge scene and which includes cameo appearances from Cornell and Soundgarden as well as Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam.
Following his 2011 live album ‘Songbook’ Cornell also shows off his vocal range and guitar skills on a number of covers, the best ones being Led Zeppelin’s ‘Thank You’ and the last song of the night ‘Day in the Life’ by the Beatles where he fills in the cacophony of brass that breaks the track into two sections by impressively scaling the guitar while using a sampler to create an echo effect that reverberated around the City Hall. The sampler was also used for ‘Blow Up the Outside World’, Soundgarden’s penultimate single in 1996 before they disbanded the following year – this time sampling his guitar and leaving the stage while it still plays the chorus.
This was a certainly a night to treasure, in part due to its rarity – Cornell having previously only played at Newcastle’s Riverside with Soundgarden back in the early 90s. With that band unlikely to grace one of the region’s venues again it could be a while indeed before we ever get a chance to see such an intimate performance, by a living legend of rock.