hit up Chris Cornell’s North American Higher Truth tour in Edmonton July 23, 2016 and it was amazing. Having travelled from Vancouver to Los Angeles to see him perform (not to mention several home shows as well), I knew what the crowd was in for – 2+ hours of soulful, mind-bending opulence; an experience.
He carried the crowd through soaring renditions of old favourites such as “Can’t Change Me” and found new energy in an old classic by reworking lyrics to what Cornell called one of the most prolific civil rights songs ever written; Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’ [Back]” (Back added by Cornell as part of the rewrite). Among many other pleasant surprises as far as covers go, this particular one was definitely a highlight of the show, his raw vocals lending themselves well to the song’s wrought lament over the turbulence of our times.
And this is precisely what has made his appeal so enduring and relevant; it’s his ability to reinvent and revive music in new and unexpected ways that has made his solo career such a success. From the time Euphoria Mourning was first released to his follow up solo album Carry On, all the way through his release of the much maligned Scream album, his extensive catalog re-imagined and mastered when his first Song Book tour came through in 2011, Chris Cornell has been challenging the status quo and norm with which music is both judged and experienced.
Though many have lauded the success of his solo tours and describe his vocal talents with the fervent adoration only reserved for Royals coverage (and I agree, he has so masterfully captured the subtlety of his vocal capabilities that there is no denying; when you listen to the man sing, you are listening to one of the finest musicians alive today), he is impossibly captivating for a different reason.
When it comes to captivating the attention of an audience for an extended period of time, the allure of effort without intention wears thin quickly. However, sitting through one of Cornell’s extensive acoustic sets isn’t taxing. His performances leave participants entirely mesmerized, thoroughly disappointed when its all over, wishing he would just continue on in an endless moodily euphoric loop, preaching the end of the world.
Case and point, last night’s thunderous boom of applause after his first exit – he performed an encore, capping off the night with Higher Truth – echoed the sentiment of the crowd; one of nostalgia, admiration, and genuine respect. Cornell recently joked that anything under two hours was not a proper show and he made good on that statement by playing well over that. In fact the entire show, including the phenomenal Fantastic Negrito (if you haven’t yet had a chance to listen in on his music, you really should) was about three and a half hours total.
Not straying from a base level of honesty and humour, he intermingled musings about leaving profane graffiti on his dressing room wall via a black sharpie (for old times sake) with genuine questions regarding the world he lives in, ones he doesn’t have the answers to yet. And while it is true that his song writing genius is undeniable, it is the guy himself (and his perspective) that resonates. Back in August 2009 he tweeted about his eternal struggle between the opposing forces of doubt and determination. Written almost seven years ago, the imagery evoked from that telling commentary seems very much as applicable today as it was for him then.
His first solo effort seemed to be about searching the scorched earth for meaning and truth, though the first release title, Euphoria Morning, was artfully deceptive (early record label pressure influenced the title and it still pisses him off to this day). To great relief he changed it back to the originally intended Euphoria Mourning, and the meaning of that album clicked in a way it hadn’t before; it is easier to relate to an artist when their absolute truths are personified through individual experience. At that time he was searching – an alchemist in the making, weaving gold through a tumult with the forceful wind.
On stage he spoke about those personal experiences while writing specific songs, shared insights about what they could mean through another’s interpretation, and didn’t shy away from betraying the emotional content deeply tied to his personal life, which proved a very powerful way of drawing the audience into his performance. And there is no doubt that being able to relate emotionally to an artist immediately alters the experience.
As a result, his music draws out an unsolicited emotional response that is elemental, engaging, and pure. He thinks deeply, therefore he writes. Cornell’s newest effort, Higher Truth, is still full of wonderment and it would be interesting to know what questions he’s asking himself these days. Melancholy will always be a prevalent theme and companion when he sits down to write as he noted in an interview with Rolling Stone back in August 2015, “Often times, especially in the context of an acoustic song, I’m motivated to write by some amount of melancholy.” But his sometimes bleak, other times hopeful lyrics from “Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart” (his first single from the Higher Truth album) suggest he is both found and still seeking. And it’s that deep level of intention laced into every aspect of his prolific writing and performance that has made his artistry so inspiring.
His work has been an audio roadmap through those questions, and the deviations and course corrections all point to the seeker in Cornell. Such was the case with his brave Scream album (he eventually course corrected after its initial release with a more rock-friendly version). Though it was largely derided and subjected to harsh criticism, the album was put it out there for the only reason anyone should create one – because he was inspired to. He hasn’t shy’d away from mentioning it either, proudly performing “Scream” at the request of an insistent audience member. He has earned the right to proudly bear that work and why shouldn’t he? How many artists do you know with enough audacity to dare the question and truly depart from the well traversed path that has thus far paved their way to success to chart the unknown?
A Christopher Columbus in his own right, he has found a way to transcend the barriers of public persona that often mar and distort true and intentional creativity. He shares a genuine piece of himself every time he graces a stage and that honesty (a rare approach these days given the current state of things) resonates.
He isn’t full of shit. And that matters.
**A new announcement that Temple Of The Dog is going on their first tour to commemorate the 25th anniversary of their only self-titled album dropped this week. Tickets go on sale July 29, 2016 for select shows – don’t miss out!
Full Set List:
- Before We Disappear
- Can’t Change Me
- ‘Til the Sun Comes Back Around
- Nothing Compares 2 U (Cover)
- As Hope And Promise Fade
- Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart
- The Times They Are A-Changin’ Back (Cover)
- Fell On Black Days
- Lady Stardust (Cover)
- 4th of July
- Be Yourself
- Doesn’t Remind Me
- Blow Up The Outside World
- Let Your Eyes Wander
- Say Hello 2 Heaven
- Wooden Jesus
- I Am The Highway
- Wide Awake
- Rusty Cage
- Black Hole Sun
- Hunger Strike
- One (Cover)
- A Day In The Life (Cover)
- Higher Truth