Chris Cornellâ€™s Passion Dominates Star-Studded Tribute Show
Soundgarden, Audioslave, Metallica, Dave Grohl, Josh Homme, Miley Cyrus and Fiona Apple lead five-hour â€˜I Am the Highwayâ€™ show
Chris Cornellâ€™s friends and family offered up many heartfelt tributes at Los Angelesâ€™ Forum Wednesday night, but the one that captured his essence best improbably came from Jack Black. â€œSometimes Chris Cornell would sing a note that didnâ€™t exist,â€ he told the sold-out crowd. â€œSometimes [he] would sing a note that was between two real notes, and it would open a portal into another dimension. I donâ€™t know if thatâ€™s true. Like, maybe it was probably a real note â€“ it was probably a C-flat â€“ but it was the way he sang it like it ripped a portal to another dimension. You know that wasnâ€™t just some studio magic.â€
Cornellâ€™s vocal acrobatics and unique magic may have been absent at the five-hour event, officially dubbed I Am the Highway: A Tribute to Chris Cornell, but there were plenty of singers who came close, and many of his former bandmates and friends summoned his quintessence, as they pulled from all corners of his songbook. The core group of performers was a whoâ€™s who of the Seattle grunge scene â€“ enough members ofÂ Soundgarden,Â Temple of the Dog, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Alice in Chains and Melvins that they could have gone rogue and started their own rival Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on the spot.
Cornellâ€™s formerÂ AudioslaveÂ bandmates also played, as didÂ Metallica,Â Foo FightersÂ andÂ Ryan Adams. There was also a litany of notable guest singers:Â Miley Cyrus, Fiona Apple,Â Chris Stapleton, Miguel andÂ Adam LevineÂ sang a mix of Cornellâ€™s solo material and works with bands. â€œAll I gotta say is it takes some balls to get up there,â€ one fan said mid-show. â€œThose are some hard songs to sing.â€
Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christian Bale, Tom Hanks, Courtney Cox and many others showed up too to pay their respects and celebrate Cornellâ€™s talents, and Jimmy Kimmel served as the nightâ€™s affable host, keeping the mood light as the production attempted to change between performers quickly. It was the sort of star-studded Hollywood tribute you might expect for Tom Petty or David Bowie, but instead it was honoring someone who was somewhat of an unsung hero.
It was a dark and rainy, Seattle-esque night outside the Forum, but it would have already felt like that inside judging from the sea of grunge T-shirts the audience was wearing, including many Soundgarden shirts (and even one for Citizen Dick). To kick off the evening, the three surviving members of Soundgarden addressed the audience, and drummer Matt Cameron explained how the event came together. â€œWhen the idea of a tribute concert for my friend Chris Cornell was presented to me, I was torn,â€ he said. â€œI didnâ€™t feel like I had the strength required to pull it off. So I went back to the music. I heard his voice, and I found my strength. â€¦ Chris is here with us tonight. He has the best seat in the house.â€ And during some of the sets, namely the Foo Fightersâ€™ whenÂ Dave GrohlÂ performed â€œEverlongâ€ solo in tribute to Chris, there was a spotlight on an empty part of the stage.
Cornellâ€™s spirit, in all its many guises, was perpetually present. The raving lunatic of his earliest recordings was there in Melvinsâ€™ bulldozing â€œSpoonmanâ€ and Metallicaâ€™s crushing â€œAll Your Lies.â€ The jokester whoâ€™d grab crowdsâ€™ attentions in Foo Fightersâ€™ impish covers-of-Soundgardenâ€™s-covers like Devoâ€™s â€œGirl U Wantâ€ and Cheech and Chongâ€™s â€œEarache My Eye.â€ The contemplative troubadour Cornell became during his mid-career turnaround came through in Appleâ€™s rendition of Temple of the Dogâ€™s â€œAll Night Thing.â€ The genre-defying songsmith came through inÂ Josh Hommeâ€™s take on Johnny Cashâ€™s version of â€œRusty Cage.â€ The songwriter-for-the-sake-of-songwriting came through in Rita Wilsonâ€™s emotional rendition of his soundtrack song, and final single of his lifetime, â€œThe Promise.â€ The brooding, depressed artist was there in Ryan Adamsâ€™ â€œFell on Black Days.â€ The loving father showed his effect on his kids when his daughter, Toni, sang Bob Marleyâ€™s â€œRedemption Songâ€ with Ziggy Marley. The list could go on and on.
The nightâ€™s best performances seemed to surprise the audience. Of course it helped that someone like Dave Grohl, rockâ€™s most indefatigable cheerleader, would play a set with Foo Fighters and then return for a stunning rendition of â€œShow Me How to Liveâ€ with Audioslave. And Alice in Chainsâ€™ William DuVall and Jerry Cantrell tapped into Cornellâ€™s early animalistic id with their take on Soundgardenâ€™s first single, â€œHunted Down,â€ when they guested with some Temple members.
But while itâ€™s clear the crowd had its favorites, cheering for the headliners and Chris Stapleton, it quickly came around to some of the pop artists who made appearances. Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine matched Cornellâ€™s tone better than most singers on his rendition of the solo song â€œSeasons,â€ from theÂ Singlessoundtrack, and it was so convincing it got cheers from the crowd midway through.
Brandi Carlile was a perfect rock frontwoman and got the audience to lead a chorus of Audioslaveâ€™s â€œLike a Stoneâ€ all by themselves. And the nightâ€™s true showstopper was perhaps the artist rock fans were most skeptical of: Miley Cyrus. Although she sang a moving rendition of the solo recording â€œAs Hope and Promise Fadeâ€ earlier in the evening, she brought the crowd to its feet when she belted out Temple of the Dogâ€™s â€œSay Hello 2 Heaven,â€ pushing her voice to its max and headbanging.
What became evident throughout the evening was just how complex and nuanced Cornellâ€™s songs were. As Black noted, not everyone can open a portal into another dimension, but the producers did a good job of finding singers who could try. It took R&B singer Miguel to nail his soulfulness on Temple of the Dogâ€™s â€œReach Down,â€ a performance that benefitted from Nikka Costaâ€™s harmonies (as well as Miguelâ€™s secret talent at grunge swaying during the guitar solos). And while Soundgarden performed their set of hits and deep cuts for diehards (â€œI Awakeâ€!), you could see some of the singers struggle ever so slightly; surprise guest Taylor Momsen had to find the groove on â€œRusty Cage,â€ a song in a funky time signature, and Taylor Hawkins jokingly renamed â€œThe Day I Tried to Liveâ€ â€œThe Day I Tried to Sing.â€
But the whole evening, which Cornellâ€™s widow Vicky masterminded to benefit theÂ Chris and Vicky Cornell FoundationÂ and theÂ Epidermolysis Bullosa Medical Research Foundation, had a bit of a loose, party vibe â€“ more of an Irish wake than a solemn tribute â€“ that made it fun. The only downsides were that not all of Cornellâ€™s bandmates were there (absentees, at least onstage, included Audioslaveâ€™s Tim Commerford, Temple of the Dogâ€™s Eddie Vedder and Mike McCready and founding Soundgarden bassist Hiro Yamamoto) and that it perhaps ran too late on a school night to keep the audience there into the wee hours to witness the nightâ€™s finale, a rendition of â€œBlack Hole Sunâ€ sung by Carlile that featured Peter Frampton on guitar trading off licks with Kim Thayil. By the time the lights went up at the end of Thayil and bassist Ben Shepherdâ€™s ritualistic, nine-minute feedback session, about a third of the crowd had exited.
Those who stayed though witnessed the full magnitude of Cornellâ€™s brilliance and a unique insight into what made him special. Itâ€™s something that Pearl Jam and Temple of the Dog guitarist Stone Gossard captured perfectly in his address to the crowd. â€œThe way I see it, Chris was a bluesman,â€ he said. â€œHe got the blues. And he turned those feelings into songs that made us vibrate, and they made us move. â€¦ All of our lives are still tumbling along without our leader. â€¦ So the question is now what do we do? What would Chris have us do? I think this concert is a step in the right direction.â€
I Am the Highway Set List
The MelvinsÂ (Buzz Osborne, Dale Crover, Steven Shane McDonald, Jeff Pinkus)
- â€œKicking Machineâ€
- â€œWith Yoâ€™ Heart (Not Yoâ€™ Hands)â€
- â€œHeart of Honeyâ€
- Â Spoonmanâ€
- â€œThe Promiseâ€
Nikka Costa and Alain Johannes
- â€œDisappearing Oneâ€
- â€œThe Keeperâ€
Foo Fighters (Dave Grohl, Taylor Hawkins, Nate Mendel, Pat Smear, Chris Shiflett, Rami Jaffee)
- â€œNo Attentionâ€
- â€œEarache My Eyeâ€
- â€œGirl You Wantâ€
- â€œEverlong (Acoustic)â€
- â€œRusty Cageâ€
Adam Levine, Jesse Carmichael, and Stone Gossard
- â€œTwo Drink Minimumâ€
Audioslave (Tom Morello and Brad Wilk)
- â€œCochiseâ€ (withÂ Geezer ButlerÂ andÂ Perry Farrell)
- â€œBe Yourselfâ€ (with Geezer Butler andÂ Juliette Lewis)
- â€œSet It Offâ€ (withÂ Chris Chaney, Sam HarrisÂ andÂ Tim Mcllrath)
- â€œLike A Stoneâ€ (with Chris Chaney andÂ Brandi Carlile)
- â€œShow Me How To Liveâ€(withÂ Robert TrujilloÂ andÂ Dave Grohl)
Toni Cornell and Ziggy Marley
- â€œRedemption Songâ€
Metallica (James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett, and Robert Trujillo)
- â€œAll Your Liesâ€
- â€œFor Whom The Bell Tollsâ€
- â€œMaster of Puppetsâ€
- â€œHead Injuryâ€
Ryan Adams (Daphne Chen, Richard Dodd, Eric Gorfain, Leah Katz, and Don Was)
- â€œDead Wishesâ€
- â€œFell On Black Daysâ€
Temple Of The Dog
- â€œPreaching The End Of The Worldâ€ (Nikka Costa, Alain Johannes, Stone Gossard, Brendan Oâ€™Brien,Â andÂ Josh Taylor)
- â€œCanâ€™t Change Meâ€ (Nikka Costa, Alain Johannes, Stone Gossard,Â Eric Avery,Â andÂ Josh Freese)
- â€œHunted Downâ€ (William DuVall, Jerry Cantrell, Stone Gossard,Â Jeff Ament,Â and Josh Freese)
- â€œAll Night Thingâ€ (Fiona Apple, Brendan Oâ€™Brien, David Garza, Jeff Ament, andÂ Matt Chamberlain)
- â€œReach Downâ€ (Miguel,Â Nikka Costa, Stone Gossard, Brendan Oâ€™Brien, Jeff Ament, andÂ Matt Cameron)
- â€œSay Hello 2 Heavenâ€ (Miley Cyrus, Brendan Oâ€™Brien, Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, and Josh Freese)
- â€œHunger Strikeâ€ (Brandi Carlile, Chris Stapleton, Stone Gossard, Brendan Oâ€™Brien, Jeff Ament, and Matt Cameron)
Soundgarden (Kim Thayil, Ben Shepherd, and Matt Cameron)
- â€œRusty Cageâ€ (withÂ Taylor Momsen)
- â€œFlowerâ€ (withÂ Marcus Durant)
- â€œOutshinedâ€ (with Marcus Durant and Stone Gossard)
- â€œDrawing Fliesâ€ (with Taylor Momsen,Â Buzz Osborne,Â Matt Demeritt, andÂ Tracy Wanamae)
- â€œLoud Loveâ€ (with Taylor Momsen,Â Tom Morello, and Wayne Kramer)
- â€œI Awakeâ€ (withÂ Taylor HawkinsÂ andÂ Buzz Osborne)
- â€œThe Day I Tried To Liveâ€ (with Taylor Hawkins and Buzz Osborne)
- â€œBlack Hole Sunâ€ (with Brandi Carlile,Â Peter Frampton, Tim Hanseroth,Â andÂ Phil Hanseroth)