House of Blues
April 3, 2011
Better than: open mic night at any given local bar, although not by much.
Let's get something out of the way right up front: I'm a pretty huge Chris Cornell fan. I've seen him live a few times before, and he's always exceeded my expectations. Needless to say, I was pretty stoked to be going to see his first ever solo acoustic tour.
But all optimism vanished only a few steps into the downstairs portion of the main room at the House of Blues, where this show was being held and where we learned that we were about as close to the stage as we were going to be able to get.
The floor area normally utilized for their general admission customers was roped off and filled with chairs. And, OK, that much makes perfect sense. Who wouldn't prefer to sit down while watching an intimate two-hour acoustic performance?
The House of Blues, however, just isn't laid out to where this kind of thing can be properly executed. Not only was the bottom section roped off, general admission ticket holders were kept back an additional 15 to 20 feet from the ropes, pushed back underneath the balcony area where the big house sound was barely more than a muffled mess and where most views were obstructed by huge pillars. It was like being at a bar or coffee shop where most people seemed to come for drinks and conversation rather than to listen to whoever was playing softly way over in the corner.
Fans bitching about poor views were literally louder than what was taking place on stage.
At one point, I heard a middle-aged woman jokingly trying to convince two others that, between them, they could overtake the bouncer and gain entry to the coveted roped-off area.
After Cornell was drowned completely out by a drunken guy standing next to us singing mostly wrong lyrics to "Can't Change Me" from Cornell's first solo record both louder and faster than the guy onstage, we decided to try and sneak upstairs. Without a ticket to one of the balcony seats, the view crouching near the stairs wasn't appreciably better. But the sound quality was enough improved that we managed to last a few more songs.
The hidden track from Cornell's Scream album, "Two Drink Minimum," seemed like an odd choice at first, but it went over surprisingly well. Temple of the Dog's "Call Me a Dog," followed by Soundgarden's "Fell On Black Days" and "Burden In My Hand" was easily the high point of what we saw.
"Burden In My Hand," in particular, was actually kind of incredible, as Cornell not only pulled off all the instrumental parts on his single acoustic guitar, but did so quite capably. That is to say it was impressive enough to buy him a few more songs under such miserable conditions.
We were treated to some Mother Love Bone, and then a version of "Mind Riot," which Cornell performed on electric guitar. But by far the most interesting moment of the set -- or, that is to say, what we saw of it before we left, fed up with the conditions -- came when Cornell sang to a turntable. He told a story about not being able to find anyone who could play piano like his former bandmate Natasha Shneider, who passed away a few years ago, so he isolated her piano track from the studio recording of "When I'm Down" from Euphoria Morning and had it pressed to vinyl. Sure enough, he walked over to a turntable at the side of his setup, took a record out of its sleeve, cued it up, dropped the needle and proceeded to wail vocally over the warm and haunting vinyl tones.
Not too long after, we'd had about all we could take of the practically nonexistent sightlines and tremendously underwhelming audio quality and decided to head for the exit.
In all honesty, I was glad I hadn't paid for my ticket. Otherwise, we would have left sooner and fought like hell to get a refund.
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Personal Bias: On both Friday and Saturday night in the lead-up to the show, I had dreams that involved meeting Cornell and going to his shows. In one of them, I insisted on paying him double for his merch (a shirt and an EP that doesn't actually exist in real life) before one of the shows. His response to me was "Thanks, now I'll perform twice as good tonight!" Whoops?
Random Local Celeb Sighting(s): It was somewhat comforting to see Toadies frontman Vaden Todd Lewis and his wife frantically wandering around the general admission area with the rest of us "regular" folk, trying to find that elusive good spot. When we left, we spotted his Burden Brothers bandmate Taz Bentley checking out, too, which made us feel slightly justified in our decision.
Random Note: The best story Cornell told between songs was about a past concert, where he told everyone in the audience to stand up. He noticed one guy who remained sitting and had the audience heckle the guy for being the lone attendee to remain seated. The kicker came when Cornell discovered the guy was actually in a wheelchair.