Chris Cornell’s stripped down solo performance in Thursday night The Egg’s Hart Theatre was all about legacy.
Cornell is a singer-songwriter who isn’t often thought of as such. Usually, his tunes are buried in mountains of distortion, weird time signatures and hoarse screaming. But before a sold-out crowd, Cornell completely exposed himself, playing music from every era of his career — Soundgarden’s off-kilter sludge metal, Audioslave’s working man’s rock, Temple of the Dog’s soulful screeds and his genre-hopping solo records. Everything he played passed the acoustic guitar test of a great song.
Throughout, Cornell was relaxed, making the usual cracks about The Egg’s odd shape as he took the stage — “Tonight is a night for justice for giant hens!” He stuck to his solo material to start, beginning inauspiciously with “Scar on the Sky” from his 2007 album “Carry On.” “Ground Zero” was a nice surprise, proving that as much of a blunder as Cornell’s 2009 collaboration with Timbaland, “Scream,” was, the songs were still strong.
He seemed to be moving backwards through the years, throwing in some Audioslave next — “Be Yourself” bubbled over with a soulful passion barely even hinted at on the recorded version, and “Wide Awake” was the first time that Cornell really unleashed his Robert Plant-esque shrieking, to massive applause.
But “Fell on Black Days,” the evening’s first Soundgarden song, was where the crowd really lost it. Always one of the band’s most haunting numbers, in this setting the song was downright disturbing, in a good way. He then reached back even further to Temple of the Dog, playing “Call Me a Dog,” “Hunger Strike” and “Wooden Jesus” in quick succession.
Another highlight was the twisting “Seasons,” one of Cornell’s first-ever acoustic forays from the 1992 soundtrack to the film “Singles.” And speaking of twisting, a Soundgarden deep cut, “Mind Riot,” showcased Cornell’s inventive use of tunings and unusual song structure.
Cornell kept things loose and fun over the course of two hours, taking audience requests — “Sweet Euphoria,” from his 1999 solo debut “Euphoria Morning,” was a bit rusty but wonderfully spontaneous. His cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” later in the set managed to find new ground in the song, with Cornell’s throaty growl put to especially good use.
He didn’t deny the crowd the hits, touching on Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” and Audioslave’s “Doesn’t Remind Me” to close out the main set. But it was the deep cuts — the bouncy “Burden in My Hand” from Soundgarden’s last record, or the aforementioned “Mind Riot” — that really made this show something special.
Fellow ’90s alt-rocker (and former New Yorker) Craig Wedren opened with a half-hour of songs mostly drawn from his new solo album “Wand.” Though maybe a song or two from his former band Shudder to Think may have been welcome, what Wedren did play was well-suited to the acoustic format. Highlights included set opener “Fall In,” with Wedren singing eerie harmonies with himself thanks to the aid of a looping device, and “Poolkiss,” an adaptation of an instrumental piece Wedren wrote for the TV show “Laurel Canyon.”
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