Chris Cornell turns simpler sounds into an amazing night at the Michigan Theater
Chris Cornell’s devastating performance at the Michigan Theater on Sunday is a case in point. Alone with a handful of guitars, Cornell reconstructed his own tunes, reinvented some other peoples’ and essentially brought the house down during a two-hour, hit-filled, perfectly paced performance.
That Cornell is one of rock’s most-powerful singers isn’t a secret. But, stripping of the flannel and bombast of his bands—Soundgarden, Audioslave and Temple of a Dog—he was able to break his tunes down to their essential parts.
What was left behind were tunes of remarkable depth and grace, anchored by hooky choruses and infections grooves.
“It’s good to be in Ann Arbor,” he said. “It’s been a lot of years since I’ve been here.”
Yet he seemed right at home, launching his two-hour, performance with Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny About) Peace Love and Understanding?” From the outset, it was clear that Cornell was in his element, strumming confidently and singing effortlessly, alternating his trademark growl with full-throated howls and gentle purrs.
In fact, just as Soundgarden’s trademark was its use of dynamics to break up its songs, Cornell alternated loud and soft passages just as effectively with only his voice and acoustic guitar.
Cornell covered his career—from his bands to his solo efforts —over the course of his 22-song set. From mega-hits like “Black Hole Sun” to fan favorites like “Cleaning My Gun,” he offered something for everyone.
He even played along with audience whims, moving a few tunes up on the list to satisfy shouted-out requests. And ever the dashing rockstar, he was both engaging and aloof, bringing a fan up to sign his LP one moment, hiding behind his mane of hair the next.
Midway through the show, Cornell walked over to a turntable set up stage right and dropped the needle on a record. Then, to the backing of a stately piano, he unleashed a breathtaking rendidion of his solo tune “When I’m Down.” It was a a highpoint during a concert that was full of them.
And then there were the covers. There wasn’t a trace of irony in his versions of Led Zeppelin’s “Thank You” or The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life,” while Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” received a stripped-down, elegiac reading that was gentle and touching. Ironically, Cornell chose Bruce Springsteen’s barren “State Trooper” for his sole foray into guitar pyrotechnics, drenching the rune in reverb and feedback without ever compromising the song’s grace.
By the time the last notes of Soundgarden’s “Blow Up the Outside World” rang through the theater and the house lights came up, Cornell had delivered one of the strongest sets we’ve seen in a long time.
Let’s be honest; not many performers can successfully reinvent material originally conceived with full bands and loud guitars in a solo setting. On Sunday, Cornell made it look easy and made it sound amazing.