a (very long) evening with…

23 Jun

Several months back, I won a pair of tickets to see Chris Cornell’s solo show at the Carpenter via the WNRN VIP Member List, one of the nicely efficient perks of supporting independent music radio in Virginia – every Monday, members get an email with a bunch of potential prizes (mostly concert tickets) they might be interested in; send a response with your choices, you get entered into a drawing, and you get notification later in the week. It’s pretty sweet, and, as an RVA listener (the station’s out in Charlottesville – we get a relatively low-power repeater), the odds are pretty good that if you throw in for a local event, you’re going to get it. I give the station around a hundred bucks a year, and I’ve more than made that back in concert tickets every year I’ve given. Pretty sweet if you ask me.

So, last night, after the usual “are they actually gonna have my tickets at will-call” worries (though they always do), I entered the gorgeous downtown theater and grabbed my seats – and it actually was “seats” here; the rest of my family had conflicts, and I didn’t have any takers when I offered up the other ticket to friends on social media (not surprising, I guess, for a Wednesday night). I wasn’t that concerned; I’d have some room to breathe – these old theater seats (especially where I was up in the mezzanine) can be a little small.

The opening act, Fantasitc Negrito, took the stage promptly at 7:30, and proceeded to burn the place down for 30 solid minutes. Shame most of the audience (more on them later) missed it, standing, as they were, in line for overpriced drinks at the bar. Remember this guy’s name – he’s about to blow up big. He’s got an interesting story (troubled youth, 90s r&b career scuttled by money and the Seagrams Polygram deal like every other “baby band” of the era, personal tragedy that spawned new creative focus), and an amazing sound – I bought his record online about 30 seconds after his set was over, which was mesmerizing (other than the couple of quick shots a the beginning of the set(s), I left my phone in my pocket. He won last year’s NPR Tiny Desk Concert (beating out several of my very talented friends, by the way), and really deserves to grab some attention. I got to see him last night. Win for me.

Shortly after the house lights came back up, the usual milling around continued, as a typical Richmond crowd (again, more on this as I go on) started finally filing in (up until this point, I mostly had my whole section to myself), double-fisting overpriced drinks. The crowd itself was mostly older, though with a few more tattoos peeking out from under sleeves than might be normal in this venue. My hopes kind of crashed when a bunch of popped-collar bros filed in to the row behind me. Oh well.

Cornell, tall and lanky and a little rumpled, came out onto the pretty typical “rock god goes solo to do personal, soulful acoustic material” stage (here’s a clip from the end of Mark Wahlberg’s movie Rock Star; it’s pretty much the same thing all around) – oriental rug, chair, end table (with an old dialer phone on it, for some reason); sparse otherwise; just Cornell on acoustic guitar and multi-instrumentalist Bryan Gibson popping in now and then on cello, mandolin, and organ. He played pretty much everything you could think of – eventually – I left one song into the encore, and he’d been going for three hours at that point – focusing the front of the set on a lot of his solo stuff (which you’ve heard under the credits of all kinds of movies, and probably didn’t realize was the guy from Soundgarden), interspersed with a lot of covers, most of which wouldn’t seem out of place in a stoner’s college dorm room in 1991 – Bob Dylan, Led Zepplin, Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” – most of which went on a little long, but were played and performed well. He also did an interesting, but maybe ill-advised artsy cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”…I say “ill-advised”, because that’s what set the douchebags in the crowd, including the bros behind me, off.

First, it was the drunken singalong (interrupting the near-constant bro-chatter) behind me (to the point where the older guy next to me turned back and gave them some shit), then, after a ton of these covers and Cornell’s occasionally rambling stories between them, there was some surprisingly aggressive shouts of “PLAY YOUR OWN MUSIC!” directed toward the stage. Cornell mostly ignored it or played it off like a pro, though you could tell he was a bit annoyed; and I was annoyed for him, and for everyone else who just wanted to chill and listen to one of the better voices in rock&roll from the last 20 years or so indulge himself a bit.

Except for the guy down in the orchestra section who asked for “Rock Lobster”; he was cool, and the joke kept coming up during the set (even if the song didn’t*).

Eventually, yeah, the set came around to some of the more popular Soundgarden and Audioslave (“I Am The Highway” worked really well in this format), but every time one of the big Soundgarden hits came out, so did the douchebaggery from the audience, who howled along like idiots and pulled up their phones to watch the show through the screens while shooting video they’d never watch. They also got kind of annoyed when he played Cash’s arrangment of “Rusty Cage” rather than his own (although The Man In Black’s was, as Cornell admitted, a better record).

Yeah, Richmond crowds (or at least I didn’t see this until I moved here and started going to shows) are kind of dicks when it comes to concerts. They get shitfaced in “classy” venues, show up late, talk through all kinds of cool stuff happening, bitch until they hear something they know, then they elbow you out of the way so they can shriek because “they know that one” and not actually listen to it. I wish somebody would give this town some remedial concert etiquette.

Anyway, that’s my editorial. it’s not a new one.

Like I said, he went on for over three hours, playing everything. I liked it; the guy’s got a voice on him – like I said, one of the best. He’s got the stage presence of a “jesus christ pose” rock star, which, honestly, doesn’t work quite as well when you’re playing a Dylan song on a Martin D-20 and wearing vintage white high-top sneakers, but the guy can work a crowd; though his skill set points to loud moshy arenas and drop-D electric guitars; when that side of him came out, it was a little awkward. I went in knowing it would be self-indulgent – that’s what these tours are for- and wasn’t surprised; you could tell that he was enjoying a chance to play for his fans in a more “intimate” setting, whatever that means. Some of the arrangements were pretty clever (especially whenever the pizzicato cello came out), and really enjoyable to experience.

For me, the weird, out-of-context highlight came toward the end when he played U2’s “One” with the lyrics to Metallica’s “One”, based on a google search mistake he made – he wanted to do U2’s uplifting tune, because his stuff is “so dreary”, though he accidentally clicked on Metallica’s quad-amputee nightmare’s lyrics. the thing is, they scan, and it actually works.

I kind of want to do it the opposite way now, to, you know, Balance the Force.


*-Scott, Kirsten, and I totally would have played it, whether we knew it or not (though I’m pretty sure Scott does. B-52s and Jethro Tull; those are some influences.


One Response to “a (very long) evening with…”

  1. 1
    Roni Says:

    You know me, I always appreciate a good voice, so I wasn’t disappointed. And, hey, good news, his female stalker didn’t make an appearance!

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