There’s something to be said about a man who can engage an audience for two-and-a-half hours with only a guitar, his voice and stories. Chris Cornell, the voice behind a generation’s music, did just that. On Wednesday night, October 19, Chris Cornell stopped off at the Palais Theatre in St. Kilda for the Melbourne leg of his ‘Songbook Tour’. As a hypnotist would his subject, Chris Cornell entranced every single person in the sold-out theatre with his career-long songbook of music.
For those that are familiar with Cornell’s work, they’ll know that his gigs don’t involve sitting; not by him nor the audience. Subdued and intimate are not words one would use to describe a Chris Cornell performance, but these are the words that will be used to describe this performance. In fact, intense is a better word to use. Once upon a time, Johnny Cash, with the help of Rick Rubin, gave an acoustic treatment to the song Rusty Cage, a real headbanger from Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger. The result was mesmerising. After being schooled by one of history’s greatest, Cornell, who was a sceptic, saw that it was in fact possible to perform his music acoustically. And so, after rearranging his entire catalogue, Cornell took to the road armed only with his vast array of guitars, a comfy chair, his stellar voice and his stories.
With no pomp and ceremony, Chris Cornell appeared on stage at 9pm, dressed simply in black jeans and a blue t-shirt. “Everybody here scream!”, he instructed the audience. “I’m privileged to be here performing in this historic building. Did you know that this used to be an old courthouse in the Goldrush era? Yeah, me neither. I’m just making this stuff up.” And so set the tone for the evening. Chris Cornell doesn’t take himself seriously. He chats to the crowd as if he were chatting to friends in a bar. His stories are both humorous and emotional. The first song performed by the ex-Audioslave frontman was a cover of Nick Lowe’s ‘What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding’. Before he started playing, Cornell noted that he saw posters on his way to the gig about Nick Lowe’s upcoming performances in Melbourne and encouraged the audience to go. After more half-truth stories, Cornell introduced a B-side song entitled As Hope and Promise Fade. This song is also known as Two Drink Minimum and was a hidden track on Cornell’s Timbaland-produced album, Scream. Cornell really pulled out the songs from every corner of his career. He immediately went into the lead single from that same album, Ground Zero. The song, and album from which it came, was hugely slated by fans and critics and many didn’t give it the time of day. It was great to hear this track stripped down to its core as it sounds great without all the bells, whistles, polish and “yeahs” of Timbaland.
After a handful of Audioslave, Soundgarden and Temple Of The Dog songs, Cornell started bantering with the crowd. A woman in the audience asked what the red telephone was for, referring to the telephone perched upon the stool next to him for the entire gig. “Oh this?”, he nonchalantly said. “This is Jeff Buckley’s phone. I’m not kidding.” Cornell raised the phone and showed the audience the faded writing where Buckley had scrawled his name.” Cornell went on to tell the fans that he used to have a phone just like it which he smashed in a drunken rage. When his friend, Jeff Buckley, passed away unexpectedly in 1997, Buckley’s mother gifted the phone to Cornell. When he was preparing for his first acoustic gig, he was scrambling to grab cords, microphones and equipment and accidentally brought the phone with him to the gig. Ever since, it’s been a tradition that the phone sits next to Cornell during his acoustic performances. He then performed a stirring rendition of Satisfied Mind, the last track off the post-humous Buckley album Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk. Cornell was involved in the production of this record.
Throughout the gig, Cornell took random requests from the audience and seemed to be prepared for almost anything. Peppered throughout the gig were covers of songs by artists such as Michael Jackson, Led Zeppelin and Creedence Clearwater Revival. He also performed Wooden Jesus, a song from Temple Of The Dog’s once-off eponymous album, for the first time ever. “This song’s not been performed for over twenty years.” Another highlight was the performance of When I’m Down, a song from his first solo record, backed by the late Natasha Schneider’s piano performance, which was played through the PA via a turntable and a vinyl record.
Cornell banged out twenty-six songs in just under two-and-a-half hours, yet he still left the audience wanting more. Cornell will be back here in a few months with his reunited, genre-defining band Soundgarden for performances at Big Day Out across the country. While he may deliver the songs in a different manner, one thing is for certain, the energy will be the same. The Songbook Tour will go on to be one of those tours that people will be telling their grandchildren about. This is a performance that those present will never forget.
What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding? (Nick Lowe)
As Hope and Promise Fade (Solo)
Ground Zero (Solo)
Be Yourself (Audioslave)
Wide Awake (Audioslave)
Fell On Black Days (Soundgarden)
Blow Up The Outside World (Soundgarden)
Call Me A Dog (Temple Of The Dog)
Hunger Strike (Temple Of The Dog)
Wooden Jesus (Temple Of The Dog)
Satisfied Mind (Jeff Buckley)
Thank You (Led Zeppelin)
When I’m Down (Solo)
Mind Riot (Soundgarden)
Getaway Car (Audioslave)
Like Suicide (Soundgarden)
Like A Stone (Audioslave)
Doesn’t Remind Me (Audioslave)
Billie Jean (Michael Jackson)
Say Hello 2 Heaven (Temple Of The Dog)
Black Hole Sun (Soundgarden)
Burden In My Hand (Soundgarden)
As Long As I Can See The Light (Creedence Clearwater Revival)