Wearing jeans and a button-up cardigan sweater, Soundgarden/Audioslave singer Chris Cornell looked rather collegiate as he took the stage last night at sold-out Lakewood Civic Auditorium to play a two-and-a-half hour acoustic set. There was even a college lecture-like quality to the performance as Cornell introduced the songs and spoke about their origins while he shifted between six acoustic guitars that circled him as he sat on a swiveled bar stool at center stage. He really seemed to enjoy the atmosphere, too, and joked that the fans at a previous stop in Madison, Wisconsin were drunk and obnoxious. Not that the audience was completely silent during his performance. Fans would regularly yell out for their favorite tunes, but Cornell didn’t seem to mind. After one fan requested “Right Turn,” an Alice in Chains song on which he sang, he simply admitted he didn’t know it before playing a few riffs from it as a joke and then moving on.
In a way, Cornell is to the ‘90s what Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant was to the ‘70s (and that point was driven home when Cornell played a cover of Zeppelin’s “Thank You” in the middle of the set). Like Plant, Cornell is the hard rock singer who set a new standard. Guns N Roses Axl Rose once cited him as an influence and aspiration. And Cornell still has a helluva voice and can belt out a tune like nobody else can.
On songs like the Audioslave track “Original Fire” and the soulful, bluesy number “#1 Zero,” his raspy voice really soared. He had no trouble hitting the notes he used to hit back when he began his career with Soundgarden nearly 30 years ago. The set’s most powerful tunes were the ones that lent themselves best to the acoustic format. Soundgarden’s “Fell on Black Days” sounded terrific and benefited from a dramatic single spotlight that shone down on Cornell. His rendition of Soundgarden's “The Day I Tried To Live” was equally powerful. And so was the show-closing “Blow Up the Outside World,” a song that culminated with reverberating feedback.
While Cornell was clearly comfortable with the acoustic setting, he stumbled a bit as he tried to sing along to a backing track a couple of times, putting on an instrumental vinyl album and providing vocals over it. His Beatles’ covers were hit and miss. “Day in the Life” worked great, but “Oh Darling” didn’t have any spark to it. And his cover of U2’s “One” which featured the lyrics from Metallica’s “One” was just rather strange, something he readily admitted before he played it. But for the most part, the stripped down approach worked fine; an excellent rendition of Temple of the Dog’s “Hunger Strike” with opener Bhi Bhiman suggested Cornell would benefit from performing the set with a sideman. The two had great chemistry.