The Cornell Challenge - The Reykjavik Grapevine

The Cornell Challenge

The Cornell Challenge

Published September 21, 2007

As a live performer, Chris Cornell is an ontological challenge.

By all accounts, he is a grunge-god, a member of a selected club that includes him, Eddie Vedder and Kurt Cobain. But, as Cornell himself pointed out, this show covered “a lot of songs, a lot of different albums, different bands, and a lot of different time periods.”

As I watched him tear through songs from his rather industrious career, his early days with Soundgarden, the one-off Temple of the Dog record, and a few Audioslave songs, I was forced to consider the question as to whether watching Chris Cornell and the session squad could recreate with some authenticity the feeling of seeing any of these bands live.

Through out his career, Cornell has been lucky enough to play with some great musicians, in particular, guitarists with a unique style, such as Kim Thayil and Tom Morello, whose sound is not easily replicated. Would it be the same without them? Or would the Chris Cornell entourage share a similar fate as the latest reincarnation of Guns N’ Roses?

It turns out that the session squad (I can’t recall the name of a single group member, although Cornell took the effort to introduce them all twice) did a good job with these songs. For the most part. It was mostly during the delivery of songs from Soungarden’s Badmotorfinger, in particular the fast paced Jesus Christ Pose and Rusty Cage, that Thayil’s presence was missed. The more traditional-riff based Outshined came through fine, and the night’s version of Slaves and Bulldozers was actually very cool.

Obviously, when Cornell performed songs of his two solo albums this was not a problem. And about halfway into the show, he emerged with an acoustic guitar and played a few songs solo, including an inspired version of Fell on Black Days. It was not a problem then either. In fact, I would have loved to see him perform a solo set entirely.

Another thing to keep in mind is that Chris Cornell has sole writing credits for almost every major song that Soundgarden released, besides writing most of the Temple of the Dog album, and contributing heavily to Audioslave; so in a way these will always be his songs, regardless of who he elects to play them with.

So, was it a good show? Yes, it was actually. Cornell is a great singer, backed by a capable band, performing both new material and songs that have stood the test of time remarkably. But more than anything, it just made me wish I had been old enough to see Soundgarden play in their heyday.

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