By Jim Schutze
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During his time fronting Soundgarden, Chris Cornell helped to pioneer the grunge sound of the early '90s that brought national attention to the Seattle scene. As a member of Audioslave, he was part of the first American rock band to ever perform an open-air concert in post-revolutionary Cuba. As a solo musician, he's managed to record everything from a James Bond movie theme to a Timbaland-produced electro-pop record. And yet Chris Cornell is currently doing something he's never before done in his 25-plus year career: He's embarking on a solo acoustic tour.
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The most obvious question: Why do it now? Cornell and his bandmates in Soundgarden reunited last year and have recently announced that they're working on a new album. The timing just seems off.
But Cornell doesn't see it that way. He says the rush that comes with performing as a solo entity rivals—or perhaps even eclipses—that of fronting one of the loudest bands of all time.
"It's different," he says. "It's not the same as being able to pick up a guitar in a room full of people and start to perform songs and absorb the attention of the room. That's what's exciting about it."
Of course, being the sole performer onstage can also make a musician feel vulnerable. The ever-present potential for weaknesses being exposed unavoidably looms—even for an artist with seemingly few flaws.
Were he a professional baseball player, Cornell's all-inclusive talent would find him referred to as the elusive five-tool player. With his impressively wide vocal range, his guttural screams (one of the best in rock history), his remarkable knack for songwriting, his penchant for penning penetrating lyrics and his overwhelming charisma, he's one of the few true five-tool performers currently making rock music.
And yet somehow, even with all those talents, Cornell says one ability still eluded him—one that many street performers, such as Seattle's famed Spoon Man, seemed to have down pat.
"I realized that there were other people that could stand on a street corner with [just] a guitar and draw a crowd, and I couldn't," Cornell says. "I did not have that ability, and that bothered me."
What these performers possess is the capability to captivate and connect with audiences very quickly using only a single instrument—be it a kitchen utensil or an acoustic guitar—and their own voices.
"It just doesn't get any more stripped-down than going out totally alone and doing songs," Cornell says, explaining his own reasoning for doing so on this current tour, which will find him performing to a sold-out room at the House of Blues on Sunday night. "That kind of gets me over the threshold of connecting to the audience pretty much as soon as I sit down. That's kind of the rush."
So even though Cornell promises to change up the setlist from night to night, potentially including songs from every one of his musical projects (including some that he's never before performed live), attendees of his solo acoustic shows can be assured of at least one thing: No matter what takes place, the experience promises to be elemental enough to make larger venues feel nearly as cozy as the neighborhood coffee shop.
"[Performing solo acoustic] is intimate no matter what happens," Cornell says. "If you don't talk, it's still intimate. Whatever it is you do, it is intimate."
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