Chris Cornell 05/04/11
John Anson Ford Amphiteatre – Hollywood, CA
Words/Photos by Reverend Justito
For this particular review, before we talk about the music, it is important to discuss the venue. Typically booked for plays and movies, the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre is a truly beautiful venue tucked away in the Hollywood Hills. The beauty ends with the setup as the venue as well as the promoters should truly be ashamed of themselves. Our group had a disabled individual with us. With the understanding that the venue only had seven disabled parking spaces, we did out best to get their early. Upon getting there, the uninformed and heartless parking attendants informed us that disabled parking was full. We had to fight to drive up the hill and drop off our guest. When we got up there, we discovered there were indeed disabled access parking spots. When we questioned one of the venues staff, they informed us that it was reserved for the mother of the promoter. I have to be honest, I didn’t realize Goldenvoice had a mother but one must assume it is not the first time nor the last time that Goldenvoice has put themselves before the fans. In calling the toll-free ADA hotline I was informed that it is unlawful for a business to hold disabled parking and that the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre did indeed break the law. To rub salt into the wounds, while I went to park the car, I had to fight security to re-join my party at the top of the hill. As insulting as it was to arrive early and be denied the final disabled access spot, the venue has no means of getting a disabled individual back to the general parking area after the show. The fact is that Goldenvoice and the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre FAILED to take care of their guests on this particular night and they should be truly ashamed of themselves. In the event this review falls into the hands of either Goldenvoice or the management team of the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre, I welcome you to leave us a comment explaining what you plan to do in the future to make sure this does not happen again.
I should also point out that I had not one but two fights with security to join back up with my group. During my second fight with security, I was asked if I had any cameras, drugs or dangerous weapons. I lied and informed him that I had none of the items on the list. You can imagine my delight of walking into the venue and seeing the “No Camera/No Warning Shot Will Be Fired” signs posted all over the place. Still furious over how poorly my crew had been treated, I took a page out of the Rage Against The Machine playbook. Your Anger Is A Gift, and you fuckin’ know I was not about to let a bunch of brainless power-tripping minimum wage event staff prevent me from brining you coverage of Mr. Cornell’s Acoustic Songbook tour. With that out of the way, onto the review:
To be honest, I only went to see Chris Cornell because God Frank offered me a free last minute ticket. I figured why not cross the once great singer off the live bucket list. That statement should tell you my feelings on Chris Cornell, especially considering that about ½ way through his sold out night in Hollywood it occurred to me that I had actually walked out on Cornell at the Ventura County Fairgrounds four years earlier. It was either Henry Rollins or Abraham Lincoln who once declared that Cornell’s vocals could peel paint off walls. I miss that Chris Cornell and really have not cared about anything he has done since Superunknown. Despite my reservations on Cornell, I went into the show with an open mind knowing that this had to be better then the sad hack that I saw in Ventura.
The evening started out with a brief opening set from William Elliot Whitmore. Hailing from Lee County, Iowa, the Americana musician won over the crowd with a mix of banjo, acoustic guitars and smokey bluesy vocals. Songs like “Johnny Law” worked perfectly as multiple members of security walked up and down the aisles of the tiny amphitheatre making sure no one in the crowd were able to use a camera, drugs or dangerous weapons. Whitmore also has a sense of humor, joking about how his Compact Discs were available for sale at the merch booth in between songs. For the countless times I have suffered through an opener where the collective crowd couldn’t wait for them to get off the stage, on this particular night the crowd erupted in thunderous applause when Whitmore realized he could perform not one, but two more songs. While I didn’t run out to the merch booth for a Compact Disc, I truly did enjoy Whitmore’s opening set and hope to catch him out on the road sometime in the future.
With the spring sun having sunk into the hills behind us, Cornell took the stage at 8:50pm sharp. Armed with six guitars, a record player and an old rotary phone Cornell opened his Songbook with a mellow cover of Bob Marley’s swan song “Redemption Song.” With plenty of clever banter (including admitting the fact that the phone didn’t work and would be useless in an emergency) Cornell packed the early portion of his show with a mix of hits from both Audioslave and his solo career. The drunk and mostly attentive crowd (we were blessed to have the loud Affliction T-shirt wearing meat heads behind us) sat still taking in radio favorites like “Be Yourself” and “Can’t Change Me.”
Not knowing recent solo material such as “Ground Zero” and “Two Drink Minimum” I found myself struggling to focus on the music early on. I was more interested in the stars above, the over-zealous security and keeping fans updated via our Facebook and Twitter pages. Then Cornell began discussing Emily Dickinson and my attention was back on the stage. My wife’s favorite Chris Cornell song is “Sunshower” from the Great Expectations original motion picture soundtrack. With my wife currently ½ a world away I knew it was time to risk ejection from the venue in order to share the moment with her when she gets home.
One thing I want to point out was Cornell’s tales of the previous night in San Francisco. While I could beat into the ground the fact that no one was allowed to consume drugs within the venue without risk of being beat up by security, I will instead just share with you why Marijuana is a magical medicine. Cornell shared how it has been years since he consumed cannabis, but how there was so much smoke the night before at the Warfield, he no doubt had a contact high. I knew he was not lying about this contact high, as Cornell performed at the Fillmore, not the Warfield. Once again San Francisco, you have made me proud and I am very proud to have grown up as a resident of the greatest city on the face of the Earth.
The first Soundgarden song to appear was “Fell On Black Days” and while the crowd was receptive all night it was clear that I was not alone in wanting to hear the material of one of the greatest bands to call Seattle home. Keeping the momentum up, Cornell followed “Black Days” with Audioslave favorites “Doesn’t Remind Me” and “I Am The Highway.” Yet it is where many lost interest that I became hyper-focused. Walking over to his record player and laying down some vinyl, Cornell spoke not only of playing DJ as a young child, but about a song he recorded with the late Natasha Shneider. “When I’m Down” is a beautiful piano-driven song from his Euphoria Morning release that on this starry night left goose bumps on the few in the crowd blessed enough to be aware of a talented individual who was taken from us far too soon.
With my wife’s favorite song a few chapters back, the one song I truly wanted to see found its way into the set. It was early freshman year when the Compact Disc for the Singles original motion picture soundtrack found its way into my hands. You can imagine my excitement when Cornell performed his solo track “Seasons” from the soundtrack. While the film (which Cornell also appears in) has not withheld the test of time the music sure does and I can die a little happier having seen him perform it live and in person.
The final part of Cornell’s set ended up as a giant camp fire sing along. Starting with the Temple of the Dog classic “Say Hello To Heaven” Cornell drew power from the crowd’s participation. It became so loud that Cornell was drowned out during the Audioslave favorite “Like A Stone.” Just as he began his set with a cover, Cornell closed his set with the Beatles gem “A Day In The Life.” While we all had a chuckle over the PA cutting out mid-way through, for the first time all night Cornell really showed off more as a guitarist versus a vocalist. The fact he managed to pull off the symphonic masterpiece on only six strings was nothing short of impressive.
With plenty of time left before the 11pm curfew, Cornell performed a three song encore that kicked off with more vinyl and a performance of the title track from his Timberland produced effort Scream. While that never managed to fully captivate the crowd, you know folks felt they got their moneys worth when he busted out “Black Hole Sun.” Once again the capacity crowd drowned out Cornell as he performed the biggest hit of his career. Perhaps homage to what’s been going on in the world since Sunday night, Cornell closed the show with a raw and powerful take on John Lennon’s “Imagine.” While it may have felt more like a prison inside of the venue, Cornell and his acoustic guitar united the crowd and released us back into the real world in high spirits. Walking into the show expecting nothing, Cornell restored my faith in a man that I lost faith in a long time ago. I wonder if it’s too late to re-arrange my summer travel plans and catch him perform with Soundgarden at the Gorge.