Acoustic but hardly mellow

Hard rocker Chris Cornell is upbeat and engaging in his acclaimed one-man show Songbook.

Chris Cornell (photo credit: Deena Cavalto)
Chris Cornell
(photo credit: Deena Cavalto)
Please excuse Chris Cornell if he doesn’t quite know who he is on a given day – the thundering front man of reunited and revitalized 1990s grunge heroes Soundgarden or the nuanced singer-songwriter who’s been touring the world with Songbook, his solo show offering an acoustic – but hardly mellow – version of his career highlights.
Three years after welcoming the first Cornell, when the 47-year-old presented a full-fledged hard rock show with material from Soundgarden, his albums with subsequent bands Audioslave and Temple of the Dog, as well as songs from his three solo albums (including 2009’s Scream, a semi-successful experiment in updating his style produced by Timbaland), Israel will be treated to the latter Cornell next week.
Cornell is bringing himself, his prototype rock ‘n’ roll voice and six of his guitars to the Shoni Amphitheater in Binyamina on July 16 and the Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv on July 17 for an intimate performance that will likely include all of the former, in addition to choice covers by everyone from Led Zeppelin to The Beatles (and, of course, his now classic rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”).
Songbook, which Cornell inaugurated in 2010 and resulted in a live album the following year, has been widely praised during the tour’s current European run, which ends in Israel. Performing for more than two hours, Cornell may be unplugged, but he’s not singing folk songs around the campfire.
According to a review of last month’s show at the London Palladium, Stereoboard wrote that old favorites like “Outshined,” “Follow Me” and “Call Me a Dog” were slightly reworked for a solo format and “performed to rapturous applause by the extremely appreciative fans in the stalls. Cornell referenced his ill-fated Timberland collaboration album several times throughout his show, and while the album was a commercial letdown, it was clear not all his fans disliked his experimental technique. Indeed, Cornell has clearly learnt some valuable production skills as a result of this collaboration, with the most breathtaking performance of ‘Blow Up the Outside World,’ where he looped guitar riffs with lyrics and a light display to create a finale that was visually and aurally stunning.
Indeed, for the first time that evening, his audience were hushed as he worked on stage, on the edge of their seats as he built to the dramatic and unique crescendo – with deafening applause and a standing ovation.”
Cornell finished the show with a six-song encore that included the Soundgarden sing-along “Black Hole Sun.”
And at another show, he ended up with John Lennon’s “Imagine.”
The usually dour Cornell has reportedly been engaging and upbeat on the tour, sharing anecdotes with the audience, and in the case of a show in Newcastle, England, agreeing to a fan’s request to join him onstage and accompany the singer on guitar for Soundgarden’s “Outshined.”
Following next week’s shows here, Cornell will begin concentrating on Soundgarden’s upcoming album, their first since 1996’s Down on the Upside.
Cornell told the UK publication NME that the reunion, which has already resulted in the song “Live to Rise,” featured in the film The Avengers, wouldn’t be a throwback to grunge days.
“This album is every bit as vital as anything we’ve ever done,” he said: “It’s new music available to a new rock audience, and the ultimate of what we could have achieved in trying to reach a new generation of rock fans is to give them something that’s theirs.”
In the interview, Cornell bemoaned the current state of pop music, calling Adele “the one bright spot” on the contemporary scene, and he predicted that the current dearth of originality would result in a new boon for rock ‘n’ roll.
“A big reason grunge became so big so fast is because people were so sick of what was out there. It’s the same thing now. You have a better chance of a very healthy and vital rock scene coming out today because there’s something to react against. Contemporary pop music couldn’t be any worse than it is now,” he said.
With Songbook, Cornell is doing his bit to change that.