Chris Cornell

Chris Cornell

Town Hall, New York City • September 14, 1999

“Last time I was in New York City I didn’t have a very good night,” Chris Cornell recalled, referring to a 1997 performance by the late, great Soundgarden at NYC’s Roseland Ballroom that rates as probably one of the most abysmal live shows I’ve ever forced myself to endure. But Chris Cornell is the rock star who looks the most like Jesus, so there’s room for forgiveness. Live performances were never Soundgarden’s strong suit, but when Cornell is on, he’s lethal. On this night, in only his second public performance of material from his new solo album, Euphoria Morning , Cornell was dead on the money.

All the sweeter for being squeezed into the intimate setting of Town Hall, Cornell and his exceptionally tight four piece band (featuring former members of Eleven) dosed the audience with a transcendent 14-song set that showcased nine selections from Euphoria Morning . The singer’s first post-Soundgarden outing boasts a self-reflective mix of rock and blues styles built around Cornell’s astounding vocal instrument. Possessed of a super robust voice that can be masterfully subtle — a kiss or a fist, depending on the moment — Cornell could sing an order from the McDonald’s Drive-Thru window and blow everyone away. But when it comes to songwriting, dark emotion and delicate beauty are always on the top of his list. Every word he says is what he means.

Opening with “Sunshower” from the Great Expectations soundtrack, Cornell let the band play for several minutes before taking the stage to thunderous applause. His current radio hit, “Can’t Change Me,” followed, as Cornell half joked, “It’s nice to see everyone all seated and relaxed.” Actually, the seated performance made for a much more enjoyable show, allowing space to let the music sink in and to really feel what Cornell was putting across. Early standouts included “Mission,” a slow, intense rocker that most recalls his work with Soundgarden; “Seasons,” originally an acoustic piece, that morphed into a swirling arabesque when performed with a full band; and the gorgeous, mournful “Moonchild.”

The mood of seductive foreboding continued with “Pillow of Your Bones,” a would-be coiled threat saved by its innate sensuality; “Sweet Euphoria,” an achingly beautiful ballad that emphasizes Cornell’s gift for giving voice to romantic agony; and “When I’m Down,” a straight up blues number in which Cornell confesses “I only love you when I’m down,” only to qualify that with “I’m down all the time.” The lone Soundgarden offering, “Just Like Suicide,” fit well within the scope of Cornell’s solo material and was dedicated to “That standing up guy,” a fan in the front row who danced and jumped around enthusiastically through the entire set.

A “musical genius” might be defined as an artist, who expresses through song an aspect of being alive, which is rendered so comprehensively that everything fundamentally human is, in some aspect, manifest within the music. Chris Cornell’s performance at Town Hall qualifies him as such.

As a post script, there was a press meet and greet upstairs after the show, where I shook Cornell’s hand and mumbled “You rock so hard” or something equally lame. While I was gazing into those gorgeous blue eyes of his, I couldn’t even remember my own name, but I got to touch his hand for something like 30 seconds in a row. And that is something I’ll never forget.

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