Christmas came early, for Emy and I, at least, when Chris Cornell took the stage at Massey Hall last week in Toronto.
I may be a bit biased, on account of my well documented and sometimes fanatical devotion to Soundgarden, but in my opinion Chris Cornell is one of the most gifted singer-songwriters of our time. His talents lie in his diversity and adaptability: he can artfully write loud, shredding rock songs, but is just as adept at crafting a stunningly beautiful ballad set only to an acoustic guitar. Beyond that, the mastery of his songwriting is such that his music translates seamlessly from heavy to acoustic and vice versa. It was that skillset that was on display at Massey Hall that night.
With a catalog as storied and varied as Cornell’s, putting together a setlist must not be an easy task: between a brand new album he is eager to showcase, classic megahits and countless cult fan-favorites, the man has a lot of vocally taxing songs to cram into two hours to please a lot of hungry fans. It doesn’t seem to faze him too much, because he managed to pay homage to almost every stage of his career, from the Led Zeppelin that influenced him early on musically (“Thank You“), to cuts from Temple of the Dog, a handful of Soundgarden and Audioslave musts (including a Johnny Cash-inspired “Rusty Cage“), a hearty serving of material from his studio solo albums, including this year’s Higher Truth, and a stunning variety of covers.
As diehards, we yearn to hear a different set of classics: rarities, B-sides and lesser known tunes (no, you will not find us crying out for “Black Hole Sun“). And much as we appreciate Cornell’s softer side and more recent works, Higher Truth as a record was a bit less our taste than, say, Euphoria Mourning or Carry On. But, after hearing a slew of songs from the record in their intended milieu – a proper theatre, with proper acoustics, in person – it becomes clear that this record was written with live delivery in mind.
That being said, he still delivered to us devoted loons, with slices of sonic heaven like “Moonchild,” and “When I’m Down” (featuring the late Natasha Schneider’s haunting piano accompaniment) from Euphoria Mourning (recently re-released with the title it was initially intended to have), to lesser known Temple of the Dog tunes like “Wooden Jesus.” Of course, he didn’t deny mainstream fans a killer rendition of “Hunger Strike” that make you wish he’d sung all of the original himself (sorry, Eddie). And as for the covers I mentioned, Cornell gave us his twist on two Bob Dylan songs, Mad Season’s “River of Deceit,” the Prince-turned Sinéad O’Connor power ballad “Nothing Compares 2 U,” and, get this: a little ditty called “Ave Maria.”
To any of Cornell’s detractors over the years, I invite you to hear the man perform live. He is one of the few powerhouse icons whose gift evolves with him over the years. He’s not resting on past laurels or faded range: he is as vital to the music community as ever.
Before We Disappear (Higher Truth)
Can’t Change Me (Euphoria Mourning)
Moonchild (Euphoria Mourning)
The Times They Are A-Changin’ (Bob Dylan cover)
As Hope & Promise Fade (Songbook)
Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart (Higher Truth)
Fell on Black Days (Soundgarden)
Thank You (Led Zeppelin cover)
River of Deceit (Mad Season cover)
Hunger Strike (Temple of the Dog)
Doesn’t Remind Me (Audioslave)
Blow Up the Outside World (Soundgarden)
Let Your Eyes Wander (Higher Truth)
Call Me a Dog (Temple of the Dog)
To Love Somebody (Bee Gees cover)
When I’m Down (Euphoria Mourning)
Worried Moon (Higher Truth)
Rusty Cage (Soundgarden)
I Am the Highway (Audioslave)
Black Hole Sun (Soundgarden)
Nothing Compares 2 U (Prince cover)
Ave Maria (Schubert cover)
Wooden Jesus (Temple of the Dog)
Josephine (Higher Truth)
I Threw It All Away (Bob Dylan cover)
Higher Truth (Higher Truth)
Chris Cornell played an impressive 25+ song set for his Toronto fans that night, and lamented the fact that he was only playing one date in our city – something he said he plans to rectify next time around. Die hard fans like us can only hope he turns that promise into a reality, but until then, the memory of that gorgeous performance to get us through the cold, Cornell-free, lonely nights.
– Nadia Elkharadly & Emy Stantcheva
*photos by Nadia Elkharadly