Chris Cornell was looking California, but feeling Minnesota as he played an all acoustic set Wednesday night at The Orange Peel. One day after the 17-year anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death, the grunge giant took the stage in Asheville for an absolutely stellar solo performance. Cornell proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he can carry his own without his Soundgarden bandmates, and anyone who ever underestimated his, or Soundgarden’s, importance to the ‘90s rock movement, need only see a show from this tour to become a fan.
(Videos from Stargazer2001)
Though sometimes lumped in with other grunge bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Mudhoney, Soundgarden were much more of a heavy metal band than their other Seattle cohorts. And what many may not realize is just how key they were to the events that led to the dominance of the Seattle sound in the ‘90s. Soundgarden were one of the first bands signed to the Sub Pop records label, and it was Kurt Cobain’s love of Soundgarden’s music that led him to pursue Sub Pop as the label to record and release Nirvana’s first record, Bleach.
Soundgarden signed to a major label, A&M, well before most of their peers and had already recorded two major label albums before grunge broke into the mainstream. After signing to A&M and releasing their first major label full-length Louder Than Love, Soundgarden toured extensively as the opening band for Guns N’ Roses during the height of popularity of what was arguably the most successful hair metal band. I saw Soundgarden open up for Guns N’ Roses at the Miami Arena as a young boy, well before I even knew who the band was or even had the capacity to understand what I was seeing.
Ironically, it was bands like Soundgarden only a few years later, that almost overnight unexpectedly changed the face of popular rock music and sent bands like Guns N’ Roses into a hiatus that they would never truly return from. It will always be near impossible to explain to anyone who is too young to remember, how one day everyone was listening to Guns N’ Roses, Motley Crue and Def Leppard, and a few months later all of that music was practically deadened nostalgia in the wake of what would later be coined the “alternative rock” movement.
And while Soundgarden was always much more of a metal band than almost any of their alternative cohorts, with the exception of maybe Alice In Chains or Rage Against The Machine, 20 years after they burst onto the face of popular music, we got to see a quieter acoustic side of Chris Cornell April 6 at The Orange Peel. Cornell performed to a sold out crowd, and it was simply an incredible performance.
Cornell began the show with a cover of a relatively obscure Syd Barret song, “Dark Globe,” that began an homage to Pink Floyd and many rock greats that would last throughout the show. Among classic original material, Cornell performed covers of classic songs like John Lennon’s “Imagine”, Led Zeppelin’s “Thank You”, Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” and an amazing live performance of what has become a signature Cornell version of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.”
Alongside several well-performed covers, he performed an array of his original songs from Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog and tracks from solo albums such as Euphoria Morning. Some highlights included a medley including a cover of the legendary Seattle band Mother Love Bone’s song “Man of Golden Words” with Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb,” and the opening song from the Temple of the Dog album “Say Hello to Heaven.” It was a heartfelt tribute to Andy Wood, the lead singer of Mother Love Bone, who died of a heroin overdose before the release of the band’s major label debut, Apple. The remaining members of Mother Love Bone recorded the album Temple of the Dog as a tribute to Andy Wood, with members of Soundgarden and a young Eddie Vedder, a collaboration that preceded the forming of Pearl Jam from the defunct Mother Love Bone.
More great moments: Cornell performing Soundgarden classics such as “Fell on Black Days,” “Mind Riot” and “Black Hole Sun,” Soundgarden’s biggest hit. Though it was a big commercial success I personally never cared for the song that much, but the acoustic version that Cornell performed was outstanding and made me love the song more than I ever have before.
Cornell performed songs that he wrote on piano in collaboration with the late Natasha Schnieder, of the group Eleven. In the absence of Schneider or a piano, he played a pre-recorded track pressed to vinyl on a record player he brought along with him. It was a very unique approach. He simply grabbed the record, threw it on the turntable and sang over it. He and the crowd had to be careful not to stomp too intensely or the record would skip. It was certainly more interesting than bringing a pre-recorded DAT tape to sing over, and was another fantastic moment in an otherwise magnificent performance. With this recent solo tour Cornell has firmly established his rightful place as a rock icon.