Words By: Gerrod Harris

About halfway through his set, Chris Cornell asked the sold out crowd at Massey Hall, “How are you all doing?” to which he was answered back by a roar of applause and cheers. With a grin he responded, “Yea, me too”.   Cornell, along with show opener Hemming, stopped in Toronto on October 9th, and his Massey Hall set was met with far more enthusiasm from the audience, including multiple standing ovations as Cornell touched on all corners of his diverse career, including solo tracks and songs from a number of different bands he has fronted, as well as a number of covers.

Hailing from Philadelphia, Hemming took the stage for a short acoustic set. From the very first moment her voice echoed through the venue, she had everyone captivated. Her voice was simply incredible, with a great range and excellent smooth and rough textures, sitting somewhere between Jeff Buckley and Cornell, two of my favorite singers. Her set continued with a number of catchy songs with clever lyrics, all of which showcased her voice. She has a cute sense of humor too, which makes her much more personable in between songs. She left the audience making a number of fans, and leaving everyone more than excited for Cornell.

Rather than jumping right into a song, Cornell took a few minutes to recall his 2013 set in the hall, while also praising Toronto. He then opened his set with “Before We Disappear”, a sweet and solemn track from his recent release, Higher Truth. He also performed the record’s lead single, “Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart” where he called Bryan Gibson to aid him on the lead mandolin line. Gibson, who Cornell joked is an eternal mystery, would come out to perform a number of times throughout the set, mostly on the cello. Other tracks from Higher Truth included “Worried Moon”, “Josephine”, which he dedicated to his wife, “Let your Eyes Wander” and the mood shifting title track, “Higher Truth” was used to close Cornell’s near thirty song set. Cornell also performed a number of songs from his debut solo album, the cult classic, Euphoria Morning, which was recently re-released on vinyl and retitled as Euphoria Mourning, including “Moon Child” which he claims to have only performed a handful of times. He also blasted through a brilliant adaptation of “Can’t Change Me” and “When I’m Down”, where Gibson played the cello over the bluesy piano track, pressed on red vinyl, emerging from an amplified record player, while Cornell, without a guitar, climbed the ridiculously high peaks with great ease.

Cornell takes many opportunities during his acoustic shows to play a number of covers. This tour included two different Bob Dylan songs, “I Threw It All Away” and “The Times They Are A-Changing”, where Cornell altered the lyrics to reflect the current state of the world, and both included Cornell playing both the guitar and the harmonica. “Thank You” by Led Zeppelin, has long been a staple for Cornell to cover in the last few years, but because it was expected, it was no less exciting. He also covered The Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody”, Mad Season’s “River Of Deceit”, and spontaneously went into a shortened “Ave Maria” by Schubert. While “Rusty Cage” is not technically a cover, as it was written by Soundgarden on Badmotorfinger, Cornell played it in the style of Johnny Cash’s 1996 cover of the grunge hit. The most anticipated cover was “Nothing Compares 2 U”, originally by Prince, which Cornell debuted on a live Sirius Satellite radio performance. This was performed on the same level as when I saw Prince earlier this year, which says a lot about not only Cornell’s own skill and musicality, but also his sophistication and respect he employs when adapting these songs for his acoustic performance.

It would not be a Chris Cornell show without him breaking out some Soundgarden, Audioslave, and Temple Of The Dog material. The two Audioslave songs, “Nothing Reminds Me” and “I Am The Highway” were great and again demonstrate the work that goes into adapting these songs for an acoustic setting. It goes without saying that a song featuring the signature guitar style of Tom Morello was not intended for an unplugged context, but Cornell simplified both to their basics without sacrificing entertainment. The three Temple Of The Dog tunes, “Hunger Strike”, “Wooden Jesus”, and “Call Me A Dog” were all definite highlights, and performed excellently. Soundgarden’s “Fell On Black Days” was performed with Gibson who added an eerie cello part, effected by a number of electric petals, adding a new layer to the already dense song. Cornell used a number of reverb and loop petals at the end of “Blow Up The Outside World” as he added layers of vocal and guitar loops allowing for it to naturally grow and distort as it got louder and more involved. An eager fan screamed for “Jesus Christ Pose”, one of the heaviest songs by Soundgarden, to be performed, which Cornell teased the audience by playing the blistering riff on his acoustic guitar. This led into “Black Hole Sun”, once again joined by Gibson, who laid out a crazy solo on the cello. It was so good that Cornell stopped the song in sheer amazement and gave him a fist bump.

Massey Hall proved, yet again, to be the perfect venue for Cornell’s flawless performance. His voice is incomprehensibly phenomenal, and without a doubt one of the best in the industry. Despite spending about half his set siting on a stool, he had such a powerful presence. Armed with just an acoustic guitar and his voice, Cornell is able to captivate the entire audience reaching and moving every individual. Seeing him perform with Soundgarden is one thing, but Cornell in a solo acoustic setting is truly another experience which I would recommend to anyone. Chris Cornell’s career is nothing short of impressive, but his recent solo endeavours certainly have put him at a new pinnacle of his artistry, ultimately demonstrating a masterful and sophisticated sense of musicality.

Chris Cornell Setlist:

1: Before We Disappear

2: Can’t Change Me

3: Moon Child

4: The Times They Are A-Changing

5: As Hope & Promise Fade

6: Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart

7: Fell On Black Days

8: Thank You

9: River Of Deceit

10: Hunger Strike

11: Doesn’t Remind Me

12: Blow Up The Outside World

13: Let Your Eyes Wander

14: Call Me A Dog

15: To Love Somebody

16: When I’m Down

17: Worried Moon

18: Rusty Cage

19: I Am The Highway

20: Black Hole Sun

21: Nothing Compares 2 U

22: Ave Maria

23: Wooden Jesus

24: Josephine

25: I Threw It All Away

26: Higher Truth

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