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Chris Cornell + Paul Freeman @ Symphony Hall, Birmingham – 19 June 2012

Review for Gig Junkies. Pictures: Bianca Barrett.

Dozens of rock fans make their way tonight to the delightful Symphony Hall for somewhat of a different rock gig. One of THE rock voices of the past twenty years is on stage, stripped down and laid bare – an entire acoustic set – tonight Chris Cornell brings his Songbook to Birmingham.

As the fans gather outside the hall around the bar, a few make the effort to see support act Paul Freeman. Young Welsh lad singer songwriter, acoustic guitar in hand, single spotlight on him, he sings and plays uplifting and rocky songs, that certainly get your toes tapping. He’s chatty, enquiring about the England score (the rest of the world is watching the England Euro 2012 heats match that we need to draw or win) and about to start a song he’s interrupted after a couple of bars by a fly, which appears to come from his mouth – “what was that?”  He’s got a new single out ‘Well Well’- check it out on his website.

Half hour interval and the auditorium starts to fill as 8.45pm approaches and eager fans wait for Cornell. And on he comes, dressed in hoodie and white jeans, a trim to his spiral locks, and waves to the crowd, who enthusiastically cheer back. “Shit this place is big… from the outside you would think it would have several rooms… smaller rooms for people like me…”  Picking up guitar: “I believe the England national team have a game….. Fuck! Not gonna ask anyone…. Maybe they’ll win… positive thoughts…” (This clearly worked – England won !) “….emigrated from here at some stage …. We (Americans) all did… – Now what I do is just play songs…”

Cornell’s Songbook tour is made up of songs across two decades, that little Seattle group formed in memorial; the grunge heroes; the supergroup and “just Chris”. First up is ‘Roads We Choose’ a song “which is famous for being the song never good enough to release on anything…” Cornell starts as he means to go on – ridiculously talented, great acoustic guitarist (something that he isn’t that well known for) and THAT voice. And it’s pure pleasure to just listen, as he rolls through track after track – ‘Ground Zero’ shows how stunning it is.

The stage is simple, Cornell is surround by a circle of guitars and amps, a chair bar stool, a smaller stool with an old analogue red telephone (we know not why). Audioslave’s ‘Dandelion’ written for his daughter “while she was in her mummy’s tummy… I did write songs for her after she came out! I just wanted to jump on it!”

He’s chatty and engaging, the odd anecdote – making the crowd laugh “You are very nice…. Soundgarden tour manager was from Birmingham….he was great…. He’d punch people and get into fights for us – seemed alright for us!!!!” (Tunes his guitar) “…met the members of Sabbath… expected them to be evil and want to kill you…. They were really lovely…”

Next up Audioslave’s ‘Wide Awake’ written for “the victims of Hurricane Catrina – and for people like Bush who weren’t there – thank God he’s gone…” (crowd cheer).  Track is truly remarkable stripped back – his raw scream emotes the pain of the lyrics.

“This is a song I wrote… after looking around and getting sick of people… it’s the ‘fuck you!’ that everyone doesn’t like me……this one is full of metaphors…” We get an unabridged version – full of swear words – telling everyone to basically fuck off – the crowd laugh – we all get it. This is his version of  Carly Simon’s ‘You’re So Vain’ – into the real version – ‘Can’t Change Me.’

And now he sits “seated like you…” and invites people to shout – “well that’s opened the doors…” and cheers from the different levels of the auditorium – upstairs – “sounds like they’re burning to death….” the alternating two side tiers “sound like fuckin’ lunatics!”

And now back in time – to The Temple of The Dog – conceived by Cornell as a tribute to his late friend Andy Wood (Mother Love Bone) “… a life ended short…” featuring Pearl Jam members including Eddie Vedder on vocal duties.  Mother Love Bone’s ‘Man of Golden Words’ beautifully morphs into Pink Floyd’s ‘Comfortably Numb’ followed by couple more Temple songs, a quip about two blokes leaving the audience to take a piss “… likeliness 45% doing coke; 42% puking after lunch…” and then into the classic ‘Hunger Strike.’

And now for Soundgarden –  from ‘Superunknown’ ‘Fell on Black Days’ followed by a phenomenal psychedelic version of ‘Down on the Upside’s ‘Burden in My Hand’.  And stuff backing tracks – Cornell has committed music to vinyl – played on stage on a player – to sing along to – ‘When I’m Down’ is soul and blues – Cornell devoid of guitar – walking round the stage – his voice is remarkable. Followed by a Timeraland-less version of ‘Scream.’

Daft question of the night goes to the punter who asked when Soundgarden are playing the UK. That’ll be a “couple of weeks ago at Download” and you are more than welcome to see them at Hard Rock Calling in Hyde Park, alongside Iggy and the Stooges on July 13th 2012.

And the songs keep coming: Audioslave’s ‘I am the Highway’, ‘ Doesn’t Remind Me’,  ‘Be Yourself’, Led Zepp cover ‘Thank You’ and the two hour set completes with Soundgarden’s ‘Blow Up the Outside World’ – deconstructed at the end with lopping voices, guitars overlaid both in and out of tune – a mesmerizing crescendo.

And now to the encore, and a quick snap of a couple of lucky punters fro him to tweet – “What shall I play?” – shouts from the crowd.  So we get class that is Soundgarden’s ‘Black Hole Sun’, Audioslave’s ‘Like a Stone followed by covers in true Chris Cornell style – The Beatles ‘A Day in the Life’ and Lennon’s ‘Imagine.’

The way Cornell achieves the vocal ranges is just truly jaw-droppingly incredible. And in some ways it was one of the oddest rock gigs I’ve been to. A place full of rockers – just sat, in silence, mesmerized by the performance. When Cornell was singing you could have heard a pin drop.  To see one of the best voices in rock, stripped bare, just acoustic, in a true venue fit for purpose is a pure treat. And Cornell is edgy – non-conforming – full of contradictions – from scary angst-ridden grunge to dance – he continually does the unexpected – and writes his own rules. It was a privilege to listen in and for all rock fans and aspiring rock gods – go take a look if you get a chance to see the Songbook. You will seriously be blown away.

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Setlist:

  1. Roads We Choose
  2. As Hope and Promise Fade / 2 Drink Minimum
  3. Ground Zero
  4. Dandelion (Audioslave)
  5. Wide Awake (Audioslave)
  6. Can’t Change Me
  7. Man Of Golden Words (Mother Love Bone) / Comfortably Numb (Pink Floyd)
  8. Wooden Jesus (Temple of the Dog)
  9. Call Me A Dog (Temple of the Dog)
  10. Hunger Strike (Temple of the Dog)
  11. Fell on Black Days (Soundgarden)
  12. Burden in My Hand (Soundgarden)
  13. Seasons
  14. When I’m Down
  15. Scream
  16. I Am The Highway (Audioslave)
  17. Sunshower
  18. Mind Riot (Soundgarden)
  19. Be Yourself (Audioslave)
  20. Thank You (Led Zeppelin)
  21. Doesn’t Remind Me (Audioslave)
  22. Blow Up the Outside World (Soundgarden)

 

Encore:

  1. Black Hole Sun (Soundgarden)
  2. Like A Stone (Audioslave)
  3. A Day in the Life (The Beatles)
  4. Imagine (John Lennon)

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Listening:

Temple of The Dog (1991)

Soundgarden: 

BadmotorFinger (1991)

Superunknown (1994)

Down on the Upside (1996)

Audioslave :

Audioslave (2002)

Out of Exile (2005)

Chris Cornell: 

Carry On (2007)

And just because this is totally worth a listen:

Temple of the Dog – Hunger Strike