With its plush seats and spacious stage, the Lakewood Civic Auditorium is better suited to high school plays than rock 'n’ roll shows, though it has hosted a number of rock and pop acts over the years. It’s the perfect place for Soundgarden/Audioslave singer-songwriter Chris Cornell to present an acoustic show. Cornell, who played the Civic back in 2013, once again used the intimate setting to his advantage as he showed off his powerful set of pipes and played an engaging two-and-a-half hour unplugged set of songs from throughout his 30-year career.
Wearing big black boots, faded jeans and a shirt speckled with what looked to be silver paint, the shaggy-haired Cornell looked more like a construction worker than a rock star. And yet that was part of his appeal. He treated the venue as if it were his living room as he regularly joked with accompanying multi-instrumentalist Bryan Gibson, whom he said was “sandbagging it” by playing with him and described as the kind of guy who makes you think he “rolls his own cigarettes and runs in toe shoes.” Cornell also took out time to make fun of presidential candidate Donald Trump. Though he never used Trump’s name, it was clear Cornell, who said he was newly interested in protest songs, suggested Trump would have a better chance of winning if he did something about his hair. “He needs to shave that shit off,” he said, adding that even if he did, he’d still be a “bigot” and “a red-faced asshole.”
Highlights from the set included “As Hope & Promise Fade,” a song he delivered with a bluesy wail. “Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart,” the single from his new album, Higher Truth
, sounded sharp too and benefited from Gibson, who accompanied Cornell on mandolin. Gibson stayed on stage to add cello to Soundgarden’s “Fell on Black Days,” a song that really benefited from the instrument’s bass notes. Cornell really connected with the dark lyrics of Temple of the Dog’s “Hunger Strike.” The same went for Soundgarden’s “Blow Up the Outside World,” which he delivered dramatically under dim lights.
The covers were a bit hit and miss (his take on Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” and Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” the latter of which he delivered with some solid harmonica playing, didn’t really resonate); he certainly had the vocal power to pull off Zeppelin’s “Thank You,” and he really nailed the tender emotions at the center of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U.” The encore included a terrific rendition of Soundgarden’s “The Day I Tried to Live” and the bluesy “Seasons,” capping off a 30-song set.
Cornell has said the acoustic shows only work in certain venues. Lakewood Civic is definitely one of those venues.