Unexpectedly ended up as the guest of The Puzzler at last night’s sold out Chris Cornell gig at Scala. I was vaguely aware of Cornell’s rock pedigree, although didn’t specifically know much, and so it was one of these “feel your way as you go” kind of gigs.
Anyone, by the way, who is getting tired of reading my gig reviews on the basis that the tone appears to be “Yeah, that was really good”, or “That was really good, but let itself down in a couple of places”, relax – this one rests firmly in the “That was SHIT!” basket.
Doors for the venue opened at 19:00, but due to the usual circus we got in there about 21:00. It turned out there was no need to hurry, because the band were just turning up as we got there, and after wrestling our way to the front of the substandard-beer-dispensing-queue and then finding a place in among the morass of humanity we were trated to about another 30-40 minutes of waiting while the band soundchecked. Maybe I’m overestimating my sense of human empathy, but I’m reasonably sure I could detect growing anxiety among the other punters who had probably read – as I did – on the venue website that it was 21:15 Act On Stage, 23:00 Curfew.
At what I think was 21:38 Cornell & Co. took stage and launched into – from what I gauged as a less than tidal response from the crowd – material from his new album. As I said, I’m not overly familiar with his specific work, but given the Audioslave / Soundgarden / Rage Against The Machine kind of names being thrown around I was pretty sure that what was being played was far too deep within the “funky” camp to be a comfortable fit. There were plenty of half-arsed attempts at rock histrionics (trying to get the audience clapping, mikestand waving, highfiving crowdmembers, etc.) but the feel was certainly not one of unadulterated enthusiasm. The band in general seemed pretty laid back about the whole thing, with the exception of the bass player, who seemed to be more keen on engaging with the crowd than anyone else on stage… which made him seem a bit more of a gimp, at least to the casual observer. Maybe I’m being over-critical, but it seems a little optimistic to come to the front of the stage and casually affect rock-poses for photos when everyone’s lenses are pointed across at the singer.
At about 22:45 he addressed the crowd, saying “That was the new album, you’re the first crowd to have heard that… you’re the best fans ever!”, to a muted mixed response. He then continued, “So we’re gonna play it all again”, which drew a couple of cries of “NOOOOOOOO” from the punters who hadn’t been totally overwhelmed with apathy.
The guitars fired up with what musicians would call an ostinato, which conjured images of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters”, and fairly skilfully turned into a really good grunge cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”. This seemed to placate the crowd, if only through the power of playing something we’d all heard before. After this the band came to life and rocked out far more in the style which I admit I’d been expecting them to conduct themselves for the whole gig. They left the stage about 3 or 4 songs later (you’re not gonna get titles out of me – remember, I know nothing about them) with a big bassy feedback loop running, which kind of hinted that their departure was only temporary. The house music kicked in over the top – itself a jazzy cover of “Black Hole Sun” – and the houselights started to come up, and rather than the usual 11pm push to get out in time for transport links that takes place at London gigs, there was a sort of bemused group sense of standing about, with hopeful gazes stagewards desperate for the undelivered encore. Bizarre too that there was no Black Hole Sun – it’d be like Europe performing without playing The Final Countdown (which I understand, they always play), or Robert Plant not singing Black Dog or Whole Lotta Love (which I think he enjoys too much to ever think of dropping these days).
So that was it. To summarise, you can’t bookend 4 good songs with 2h38m of standing around, over 1h of mediocre material, and no encore, and expect people to be impressed. The 4 good songs were in fact remarkably good. If I ever hear them playing on someone else’s iTunes I’ll probably enjoy them in future.
Nice venue though!