In a human life there are nights that stay with you forever. For the many in attendance at Melbourne’s Palais Theatre for An Evening with Chris Cornell, this will be one of those nights – for it was a night that they experienced one of rock’s most iconic voices let loose in all of its soulful glory.
From the moment that an acoustic guitar-wielding Chris Cornell sauntered onto stage, casually introduced himself and sang the opening lines of Before We Disappear (from his new record Higher Truth), the room took on a rare aura of communal captivation and awe, within which it would remain for the duration of a career spanning two-and-a-half-hour set.
Cornell does not just write and perform songs, he inhabits them, seemingly committing his whole being to artistic expression in the moment; an approach that yielded truly special results as he pushed his voice to its otherworldly limits.
Highlights came quick and fast in the form of Can’t Change Me off of Euphoria Mourning, a reimagining of Bob Dylan’s The Times They’re A-Changin (complete with harmonica) and a soulful mandolin accompanied version of Higher Truth’s lead single Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart earning rapturous applause before an incredible reworking of Soundgarden’s Fell On Black Days (accompanied by cellist Bryan Gibson who absolutely nails this arrangement and the others he played through the night) and the surreal experience of seeing Cornell cover Johnny Cash’s cover of Soundgarden’s Rusty Cage brought the room to fever pitch.
Going into the night, I had wondered if age would have stripped away any of Cornell’s power. But ageing seems to have only benefited him, adding further character to a legendary voice that has helped to sell over 30 million records a fact that proved true on Cornell’s takes on Temple Of The Dog’s Call Me A Dog, Hunger Strike and Wooden Jesus, which all somehow manage to sound even better than they did on record in 1990, with the latter providing one of many times when Cornell headed for the stratosphere and his vocal chords looked like they were going to burst out of his neck as his body turned into a resonance chamber.
Cornell’s demeanour in between songs was humorous and natural, with memorable anecdotes about the Queen being forced to hear his Bond theme You Know My Name and his kid dressing up as Chris Hemsworth for Halloween blending with explanations of songs and apologies for “fucking up other artists songs that were really good”, resulting in a warm and jovial atmosphere that was a perfect match for the minimalistic backdrop.
After an incendiary cover of The Beatles A Day in The Life brought the set to a close after over two hours, Cornell could have been forgiven for calling at a night and everyone would have gone home happy, however he returned and did a five song encore, highlighted by Audioslave Be Yourself (a fan request), Josephine and a powerful version of Higher Truth dedicated to Scott Weiland, who died earlier that day of a drug overdose; a fact that actually made seeing Cornell in such great shape, all the more life affirming.
It sounds like hyperbole but words can honestly not express how it feels to see Cornell in this environment, you simply have to see it for yourself. Cobain may have been the voice of the grunge generation, but Cornell was – and is – THE VOICE.
Watch: Chris Cornell – Rusty Cage (Acoustic) Paramount Theater, Denver 2015