It was a packed house at Melbourne’s Palais Theatre for the first of two shows by American singer-songwriter Chris Cornell. Cornell is probably best known as the frontman of Seattle’s Soundgarden, as well as Temple of the Dog, and supergroup Audioslave. He’s also a highly successful solo artist, and has an enviable catalogue of soundtrack work under his belt.
Opening the show for Cornell was Dave Le’aupepe, lead singer of Sydney’s Gang of Youths. He made no secret of his sweat-inducing fear at being on stage again at the impressive Palais and engaged the crowd with some honest stage banter, during which he revealed he thought he may have sharted when he met Cornell the day prior. His fear, frankly, was unfounded as he has an amazing voice, with a depth and warmth that quickly captured the attention of the folk who had arrived early enough for the support act. He did his utmost to depress us all into oblivion with his songs about his former partner’s battle with cancer that feature on the band’s debut album, The Positions, but his easy humour and talent was a perfect warm up for the main event.
Iconic as he is, I half expected Cornell to make his entrance via zip line from the balcony, so it was a little surreal to have him casually saunter out on stage as his on-stage record player spun some mellow jazz. I think it took me all of the opening song, “Before We Disappear” to compute that the man himself was actually in the same room. The stage had a simple set up, just a chair, six or seven guitars, a vinyl collection with aforementioned record player and himself.
If you’ve been to the Palais, you’ll appreciate how large it can seem and it must feel especially so for a solo artist. If Cornell had any reservations about it, they weren’t apparent – from the moment he entered the stage he owned the room and that’s before he’d sung a note.
Though I’m a fan of his, I am not well-versed enough in his repertoire to say I recognised all of the songs, but I can say that everything he performed was immaculate. He has an ease on stage which draws you in and his effortless transition between material was something to behold. He did original works and crowd faves such as “Black Hole Sun” and “Rusty Cage”, and some stellar covers including Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” and an astonishing rendition of “A Day in the Life” by The Beatles, complete with his sometime accompanist, Bryan Gibson, who plays a mean cello.
My favourite cover of the evening, though, was a reworking of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A’Changin'”. I have previously had a bit of a love-hate relationship with that song but after tonight, there’s nothing but love.
There were so many highlights – in fact, the entire night was one big highlight – but I need to make particular mention of “Misery Chain”, of which he sang along with a vinyl recording. At the time I didn’t realise it, but I was holding my breath owing to nothing more than the beauty of the performance. I confess also to a serious fan girl moment – as a big fan of the James Bond franchise – when he performed the theme to Casino Royale, “You Know My Name”, accompanied by the cello once again.
The encore consisted of “Scream”, “Josephine”, and “Higher Truth” – dedicated to Scott Weiland, who sadly passed away earlier in the day. It concluded with a spiralling crescendo of loops as he left the stage to a well-deserved standing ovation.
Cornell’s voice is like no voice I’ve ever heard before, and it’s easily the best. It was a challenge trying to reconcile the funny and gentle mortal form on the stage with the unearthly voice that filled the room. That is the sort of voice which feels like it could command the stars, or alter tides. If Mother Nature had a husband, he’d surely sound like Chris Cornell, all gravelly multi-octaved perfection.