with The Crash Kings
Having never been to The Depot before, I’ve got to admit that I was stunned by the huge open space, multiple screens showing the stage and multitude of hipsters in pre-torn jeans. Any place that you have to march up a number of stairs to get to the bathroom after drinking copious amounts of alcohol sketches me out. The Crash Kings opened up with their set of piano rock. Singer and pianist Tony has a vocal style similar to Jack White in his use of high pitched squeals, screams and matter-of-fact flow. He rocked a custom whammy bar on one of his keyboards that simulated a pretty decent guitar sound. Granted, its large size and protruding nature made it seem more like something that Pee-Wee Herman would sport as his own musical accessory, and Tony’s overemphasized mashing of the bar made it seem even more cartoonish. Fresh off their performance at South By South West, these guys seem like they are going to have a good run at it. I was going into Cornell’s performance with a pretty open mind. I knew that I would be hearing some of the Timbaland influenced dance music that Cornell is dubbing the future of rock. I’d only heard one his new tracks on the radio, and I wasn’t that into it. The lights dimmed and a corny sounding synth horn section blurted out something that sounded like part of an early Super Mario Brothers sound byte. Then the dance beat started. I honestly had no idea what I was in for. Would Cornell be sporting slicked back hair and Ray Charles sunglasses? Fubu? Tight shimmering v-neck shirt? Full line of ass-jiggling back-up dancers? Just how far was Cornell going to take this hybrid self-reinvention?
Fortunately, the dude came out looking like the grungy Cornell that we’ve all come to appreciate. I felt instant relief, although it was only a temporary feeling. The dance music was still playing. The song was “Time” off the new album Scream. The new concept consists of Cornell plugging his long drawling style into hip new dance beats. Cornell kind of danced around the stage a little the way tall white guys move around looking uncomfortable. People in the crowd seemed to humor the idea, but after a while it started to feel awkward. The crowd moved less and Cornell and the band didn’t really seem that into it. They only played three other songs from the new album throughout the long set. Immediate relief set in after the first song had ended and Cornell started the set that everyone was there to see: everything that came out before Scream. Cornell played his greatest-hits collection, bringing in music from Audioslave, Soundgarden, and even Temple of the Dog.
The band’s energy exploded as they played more of the music that people wanted to hear. Cornell branched out and played one of the best covers of Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean” I’ve ever heard, and an acoustic cover of Neil Diamond’s “Kentucky Woman”. Don’t get me wrong about Scream – it wasn’t bad music, it just wasn’t what Chris Cornell fans wanted to hear. If someone who wasn’t an established grunge rocker had tried it, it would totally work and be commercially accepted. The problem is that Cornell is pointing himself in a direction that doesn’t mesh with anything that he’s ever done. He has the chops to do anything, but as a fan, I don’t want to hear his dance beats. We don’t want to dance, we want to rock. When he would play a new song, he seemed to just be getting through it so he could play something else. If I had a more selective memory I would say that this show was nothing short of incredible, but the new tracks brought me down so dramatically that they left a slight taint on the whole experience, although the new songs did give me plenty of time to get a drink or make the long trek up the stairs to use the bathroom.
I’m sure that in a year or so we’ll all be able to forget that Scream even happened.