“Celebration” was the theme of what was, inevitably, a highly charged and emotional night at the Forum on Wednesday evening. It was a word that came up time and time again, from the mouth of Stone Gossard (Pearl Jam/Temple of the Dog), from Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave), from Taylor Hawkins (Foo Fighters), and more. “We’re sad that Chris is gone, we’re sorrowful that he can’t be with us,” they all said (to paraphrase). “But he lives on with this incredible music that we’re celebrating tonight.”
And celebrate it they did. The performers came from many and varied musical genres, but nobody let Chris down. Not one soul. Let’s be clear — this may well be the first and only time the Melvins and Miley Cyrus appear on a bill together, and yet those acts were two of the show’s star performers. More on Cyrus later.
The Melvins had the honor of opening up the whole thing following an intro from the three surviving Soundgarden members, and they provided a thunderous, brutally monolithic kick-start. Proto-grunge tunes “With Yo’ Heart, Not Yo’ Hands” (Malfunkshun) and “Leech” (Green River) were sandwiched by three Melvins songs, all before a closing, driving “Spoonman.” An arena full of people went wild, and that in itself was incredible to see.
Before the next full band, which happened to be Foo Fighters, we got one song each from Broadway singer and songwriter Rita Wilson, Alain Johannes (of Cornell’s solo band and Eleven) with Nikka Costa, and country singer Chris Stapleton. The Foos performed energetic renditions of Soundgarden’s “No Attention,” as well as Soundgarden’s interpretations of Devo’s “Girl U Want” and Cheech & Chong’s “Earache My Eye.” Guitarist Pat Smear was in fine form, by the way, despite having a horrible day following the tragic death of the Germs’ Lorna Doom. The set ended with Dave Grohl on the stage alone for a moving “Everlong.”
Josh Homme played “Rusty Cage” Johnny Cash-style, and Adam Levine was surprisingly excellent with “Seasons,” the song Cornell performed on the soundtrack to Singles. Following that, Miley Cyrus appeared onstage with a guitarist, and sang a gorgeous rendition of Cornell’s “Two Drink Minimum,” the song John Mayer wrote for him for the Scream album.
All of that was wonderful, but really served as an appetizer for what followed. Audioslave, with a revolving lineup of singers and bassists, were simply epic. The lineup that first appeared, with Sabbath’s Geezer Butler and Jane’s Addiction’s Perry Farrell, was a dream and the version of “Cochise” glorious. Singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile sang “Like A Stone” beautifully, and Dave Grohl near destroyed his throat on “Show Me How To Live.”
Another poignant moment followed — Cornell’s Daughter Toni singing Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” with Ziggy Marley, before Metallica dialed the heaviness back up. “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “Master of Puppets” in the middle of Soundgarden songs “All Your Lies” and “Head Injury.” Ryan Adams was next up (an unannounced Don Was in his band), and he too sounded magnificent on Cornell solo tune “Dead Wishes” and Soundgarden’s “Fell On Black Days.”
The Temple of the Dog set was kicked off with a few Cornell solo songs, as the band were joined by Alain Johannes. Jerry Cantrell and William DuVall of Alice In Chains (more Seattle royalty) played on a soulful “Hunted Down,” Fiona Apple was simply stunning on “All Night Thing,” and R&B star Miguel proved himself more than adept as a rock vocalist on “Reach Down.”
For many though, Miley Cyrus’ rendition of “Say Hello To Heaven” was one of the night’s highlights. Maybe those more knowledgeable about her career thus far would disagree, but there’s been little clear evidence beforehand that she’d be capable of such a powerful, emotional and raw performance. Old school grunge-heads all over the Forum visibly transformed from apathetic to enthusiastic as Cyrus wailed the refrain. Great job.
Brandi Carlile and Chris Stapleton reappeared for an earthy “Hunger Strike,” Eddie Vedder a notable absentee, and then it was time for Soundgarden, introduced by Cornell’s son Chris as “my dad’s first band that started it all.”
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This was always going to be the climax, and so it proved. Actress and Pretty Reckless singer Taylor Momsen did a great job with the opening “Rusty Cage” and, later, “Drawing Flies” and “Loud Love” (King Buzzo of the Melvins and Wayne Kramer of the MC5 joining them). Zen Guerrilla’s Marcus Durant, who has been out on the road with Kim Thayil and Kramer in MC50, sang “Flower” and “Outshined.” Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins was surprisingly powerful on “The Day I Tried to Live” before Brandi Carlile made her third appearance of the night on the closing “Black Hole Sun,” alongside a surprise appearance by Peter Frampton.
And then, as Thayil and Ben Shepherd created ten minutes of feedback to see us off, we were left with the thought that it was all over. But the next day, as we reflect on the fact that Cornell’s influence has spread so far through so many genres, and on how talented his children are, and how we’ll always have his recorded music, we realize that the man is going to be with us forever.