Rockin’ genius to the Hult: Chris Cornell’s magical evening in Eugene, Oregon

cornell_concert1
Waiting for the show to commence….

Nearing the end of his stunning two-and-a-half hour concert last night at the Hult Center here in Eugene, Oregon, a clearly delighted Chris Cornell noted that while he had enjoyed his two previous stops in Eugene, this particular night was “special”. He was quite right. I was at his October 19, 2013 show at The Shedd—a smaller and more intimate (that is, cramped) venue—and while it was a very good show, Cornell topped it last night with a generous mix of newer and older tunes—a total of 26 songs in all— the occasional accompaniment of Brian Gibson on keyboards and cello, and a vocal performance that rivals any I’ve heard from him—and I’ve listened to numerous live performances on albums and via YouTube.

Simply put, Cornell’s songs are demanding, requiring the sort of range, strength, stamina, and flexibility that very few singers can pull off on a regular basis. And there have been times when the strains of traveling and performing have taken a toll on Cornell’s voice, especially on Soundgarden tours. But the legendary singer and songwriter (Soundgarden, Audioslave, Temple of the Dog, solo) is, without doubt, in a wonderful place as an artist, making great new music and embracing his older songs with unashamed enthusiasm. Late in the set, introducing “Black Hole Sun”—a huge hit that he has sung countless times—Cornell mused that he didn’t understand why some artists end up “hating” those defining hits. “If you don’t want to sing it,” he said, “don’t write it and record it in the first place.” And then he tore into the song as if he had written it just last week, clearly thriving on the interplay between his acoustic guitar riffs and Gibson’s dynamic cello excursions. 

Having strolled onto stage at 9:00, Cornell basked in the warm reception given by a nearly capacity crowd before kicking off with “Before We Disappear”, one of several cuts played from his new “Higher Truth” album. After dipping into his first solo album, “Euphoria Mourning” (formerly known as “Euphoria Morning”), with a rendition of “Can’t Change Me”, Cornell paid and played homage to the late Prince Rogers Nelson with an emotionally-charged performance of “Nothing Compares 2 U”, augmented by Gibson’s always tasteful cello; it was at that point I sensed the night had the makings of some musical magic. That was substantiated in spades with a curve ball of a sixth song, a rare acoustic cover of “Fourth of July”—hardly the Soundgarden song one might expect at that moment. Performed with just an acoustic guitar, the song’s melodic subtleties came to the fore, with Cornell somehow teasing out the tune’s psychedelic underbelly, revealing a song sharp with both deep nostalgia and equally deep foreboding. That was followed by the beautiful (and fairly rare, for Cornell) love song “Josephine”, written for his wife, and then another dive into Seattle-inspired existential anguish with the fan favorite “Fell on Black Days”.

An intense, feedback-heavy version of “Blow Up the Outside World” (I suppose there aren’t any non-intense versions of the once controversial song) came at about the halfway mark, serving as a sort of informal cap on the first half of the show. Two of my personal favorites—”Sunshower” and “Seasons”—were included in the second set, and both were perfectly rendered, with the sort beguiling mixture of power and subtlety that distinguishes Cornell from imitators. While rightly known for his powerful wail—”Hunger Strike” was simply spine-tingling in that regard—Cornell has proven to be a remarkable interpreter, using an astonishing variety of vocal tones and nuanced inflections. It might be that Cornell is never known as much for his songwriting as for his singing, but I would argue that at this point the two are equally and perfectly paired. And, of course, we fans love the songs—and so does Cornell, as demonstrated in a galloping, country-laced rendition of “Rusty Cage” that he said was done as an homage to the late, great Johnny Cash, who memorably covered the song on his 1996 album “Unchained” (earning himself a Grammy in the process).

One final note: the two words that keep coming to mind as I listen to Cornell’s music are “elemental” and “existential”. Again and again, he comes back to sun, rain, sky, moon, and the passing of time. Think of “Seasons”, now some 25 years old:

Summer nights and long warm days
Are stolen as the old moon falls
And the mirror shows another face
Another place to hide it all
Another place to hide it all

And I’m lost behind
In the words I’ll never find
And I’m left behind
As the seasons roll on by

Meanwhile, the title song of his new album, which closed his exceptional concert at the Hult, reveals his longing in more direct terms:

You can set the world on fire
Yeah if you want
It isn’t hard
I won’t be there looking on
To see the trail of lies
As you fall
But I’ll take the truth
The higher truth
The higher truth
I want the truth
The higher truth
The higher truth
Here’s hoping the seeking continues, along with the incredible music.
The best picture I took all evening. Sad. But kind of artsy...
The best picture I took all evening. Sad. But kind of artsy…

 

2 thoughts on “Rockin’ genius to the Hult: Chris Cornell’s magical evening in Eugene, Oregon

  1. Pingback: The shocking death of Soundgarden’s legendary Chris Cornell – Progarchy

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