sun 25/02/2024

Chris Cornell, London Palladium | reviews, news & interviews

Chris Cornell, London Palladium

Chris Cornell, London Palladium

Grunge legend plays for two and a half hours but doesn't outstay his welcome

Cornell: a sweet set of pipesAll images © Imelda Michalczyk

If, stripped-back and acoustic, a rock singer’s worth may be judged, then last night the Palladium sure had the opportunity to measure Chris Cornell. And, although these days unplugged can just mean the addition of a couple of steel-stringed guitars, that wasn't how Cornell played it. One man with a six-string and a microphone. That was it.

And, blimey, for a man who over the years has given audiences every permutation of rage, angst, and torment, he showed that when he wants he hasn’t half got a sweet set of pipes.

This was unlikely to have come as news to anyone in the crowd. They all seemed to know note by note the live album, Songbook, being toured (and which involved his back catalogue through Soundgarden and Audioslave.) And there was the rub. It’s one thing to go to shell out to hear a live reading of a new album, but something else to pay for a gig that potentially holds as few surprises as this. Cornell’s answer was twofold. Firstly, to let everything rest on the quality of his voice, and secondly, to vary the setlist.

Cornell succeeded in transforming this barn-sized former music-hall into something cosyOn seeing red-sequinned shoes, and a fluffy stuffed-dog staring at me from the merchandise stand, I was wondering quite how radically so. But it turned out however that Cornell was in fact sharing the stall, with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new production of The Wizard of Oz. It also turned out that the track list was less reworked and more extensively added-to, for what proved to be a marathon night.

Cornell arrived on stage looking casual in a grey cardigan, white T-shirt and jeans. Signs around the venue reminded us that this was intended to be an intimate affair and that we were to be seated throughout. Even though half the audience looked like refugees from Lollapalooza, there really was something genteel about the night.

From the outset Cornell succeeded in transforming this barn-sized former music-hall into something cosy. In fact, he made it seem like a series of small venues, each representing a different aspect of his astonishing voice. Like a journeyman working the clubs, he sat centre stage amid a selection of guitars (in the end he used three). First off “Scar in the Sky,” gave us Cornell the folkie. “As Hope and Promise Fade” then showed Cornell as blues-rocker, reminiscent of David Coverdale’s stint in Deep Purple. And then we started down the various roads of alt-rock and grunge ballads.

A particular highlight of the evening was the showcasing of the 1991 “Temple of the Dog” album (a one-off by Temple of the Dog), with five songs played from it (also recently remembered by Cameron Crowe in his Pearl Jam Twenty rockumentary.) Of course, many numbers had all the brawn the Cornell is known for, but more still, such as “Hunger Strike”, and “Sweet Euphoria” were simply pretty and lovely, which sounds sickly but with Cornell’s knack of sounding delicate and muscular at the same time, were anything but. And then there was a particularly cute moment where Cornell put on a jazz-piano vinyl recording of his friend Natasha, and sang “When I’m Down” along to it.

With his easy banter, and relaxed manner, Cornell’s performance had an improvised feel. Beforehand, the sound man had even told me that there was no set-list as such, rather that Cornell let the mood carry him. Eventually, and somewhat inevitably, that meant that there just wasn’t always enough contrast. By track 22, and after almost two hours it seemed surely time for the set to end, and the encores to begin. The Audioslave song “Doesn’t Remind Me of Anything” seemed to be building up to a finale, but it was false hope. And ironically, when the end did come with “Blow Up the Outside,”(originally Soundgarden) Cornell’s first use of the effects for the evening had breathed more life back into those who might be flagging.

So, we were then treated to six encores making the grand total 30 songs filling more than two and a half hours. Still, the encores were pretty bulletproof: a version of “Scream” complete with  backing tape, “Cleaning My Gun”, “Getaway Car," "Black Hole Sun," and covers of “Billie Jean”(Michael Jackson) and “A Day in the Life”(Beatles) which both managed to steer the right side of novelty. Yes, it was a long evening, but the crowd loved every minute. Ovation followed ovation, and as I left, I heard the girl next to me say, “In my all-time grunge dream team band, there’s no doubt, I’d still pick Chris as singer.”

Watch Chris Cornell's unplugged version of "Black Hole Sun"

With his easy banter, and relaxed manner, Cornell’s performance had an improvised feel


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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