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Live Review: Chris Cornell breaks out humor, hits, and covers during intimate ‘Songbook’ performance

 
 

By Michael Christopher

At this point, when it comes to performing Chris Cornell can do pretty much whatever the hell he wants. The grunge elder statesman has been through the trenches of stardom, battled his demons, and come out on the other side intact while many of his peers ended up deep-sixed either literally or, at the very least, career-wise.

Wednesday night at the sold out Shubert Theater in Boston, the singer did one of his intimate “Songbook” performances, where he gets up there with not much more than a stool, microphone, coat rack (yes, coat rack), record player and a bevy of acoustic guitars and plays a bunch of his own compositions and some of his favorite tracks by other artists. Occasionally he’ll bring out Bryan Gibson, who serves as a solid foil to Cornell’s self-deprecation, to accent the proceedings on mandolin or cello, but for the most part, it’s a solo effort.

Most striking is how laid back Cornell is these days. Notoriously reticent during his first go round with Soundgarden, he’s downright jovial with a constant barrage of between song stories, jokes and poking fun at himself. There was one particularly hilarious gag he kept coming back to regarding a trip to a genealogy clinic (where he met Gibson), recounting a last minute decision to back out of the process because he didn’t want to find out the percentage of Neanderthal he had running through him. We all have between one and four percent, and Cornell was concerned that he’d be right at the latter.

When it came to the songs, nothing was off the table. Cornell broke open his entire catalog, doing the requisite hits from Soundgarden (“Black Hole Sun,” “Fell On Black Days”) and Audioslave (“Doesn’t Remind Me,” “I Am the Highway”), along with a surprising amount of Temple of the Dog tracks, at three, including a stunning take on “Call Me a Dog.” His solo catalog was represented as well, with tracks from his new album Higher Truth blending seamlessly with “Seasons” and “Sunshower” from the Singles and Great Expectations soundtracks respectively.

But it was the covers that shone most brightly. There was a revamped take on Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” replete with added lyrics, something Dylan die-hards will no doubt find blasphemous, Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” Led Zeppelin’s “Thank You” and Mad Season’s “River of Deceit,” which drew a standing ovation. In fact, the standing praise was a recurring theme during the evening, not only for the most popular tracks, but in recognition of sharp rearrangements, like the front porch jam of “Rusty Cage,” more reminiscent of Johnny Cash’s version than the Soundgarden original.

Unfortunately, whether it was time restrictions or poor planning, the set was markedly shorter than other stops on the current jaunt. Though at 24 songs, there’s not really much to complain about.

Here’s the full setlist:

Misery Chain
Before We Disappear
Can’t Change Me
The Times They Are A-Changin’
Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart
Fell on Black Days
Thank You
River of Deceit
Call Me a Dog
Doesn’t Remind Me
Blow Up the Outside World
Let Your Eyes Wander
Billie Jean
Seasons
When I’m Down
Rusty Cage
Sunshower
Worried Moon
Black Hole Sun
I Am the Highway
Hunger Strike
Wooden Jesus

Encore
Josephine
Higher Truth