For nearly three hours Sunday night, Chris Cornell replaced thoughts of the outdoor chills and the impending turkey madness with his blend of hard rock, grunge and songwriting prowess for all to see at the sold-out Scottish Rite Auditorium in Collingswood, N.J. Ripping through his vast catalog of work with Soundgarden, Audioslave and Temple of the Dog, as well as his own solo pieces, most notably from 2011’s acoustic Songbook. With his deep, agile vocals still in peak form and his acoustic guitar (actually one of seven guitars, as there were that many to choose from for most of the night) providing sublime accompaniment, the concert was nothing short of fantastic.
Despite his self-deprecating cracks about song content, such as organizing the set into categories of “I’m Sorry” and “I’m Sorry Again,” Cornell was in charge, a showman who knows how to get his audience to sing along when he wants them to. The visual presentation of a semi-performance space complete with a chair, a table with a phone, and a turntable that he used to play the late Natasha Schneider’s piano to back his vocals on songs like “
When I’m Done” “When I’m Down” was certainly icing on the cake (with a bonus odd and touching moment as he rode out for the encore on a bicycle that a young fan gave him). Highlights among the 30-odd songs included “Cleaning My Gun,” a Cornell composition that Johnny Cash opted not to record; a fascinating cover of Metallica’s “One” using the guitar riff from U2’s “One”; Temple of the Dog’s “Wooden Jesus” bathed in red lights; an impromptu, partial rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “ Kashmir” “Over The Hills and Far Away” with opener Bhi Bhiman joining Cornell; a slow-burn version of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”; and the main set closer, Soundgarden’s “Blow up the Outside World,” complete with looping that shook Scottish Rite to its core.
The encore trio of Zeppelin’s “Thank You,” a glorious “Black Hole Sun” and a riveting cover of The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life,” complete with an introductory story about a teenage Cornell breaking into Seattle’s Moore Theatre, capped off a crowning night of rock. As Cornell waved goodbye, he slipped a record on the turntable to play his exit music to usher in a week already full of thanks for the night’s ear candy.
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