Chris Cornell & The Wild Beasts of The Carpenter Center

by | Jun 27, 2016 | MUSIC

Just before Chris Cornell’s solo show at the Carpenter Theatre I received an unexpected package by mail. Upon opening the package in the doorway and inspecting the contents of the box from this “phantom” benefactor I did as any decent American journalist would; took two by mouth and put back a few Coronas on my front porch and waited for God to shed his grace on me.

But let’s start over.

Just before Chris Cornell’s solo show at the Carpenter Theatre I received an unexpected package by mail. Upon opening the package in the doorway and inspecting the contents of the box from this “phantom” benefactor I did as any decent American journalist would; took two by mouth and put back a few Coronas on my front porch and waited for God to shed his grace on me.

But let’s start over.

Mount Rainier looms in the distance over Seattle, the biggest mountain of the Cascade Range in the Pacific Northwest. It is also classified as a stratovolcano or composite volcano, which gets its name from the layers of erupted materials that continually increase its structure. Harken back through recent history to the names Mount Saint Helens and Mount Pinatubo, and you’d remember the catastrophic damage those big fellas caused. For the several hundred thousand families in the vicinity of the volcano, Mount Rainier has the potential to be their Angel of Death.

For people back on the East Coast, Mount Rainier may as well be Mount Olympus. The Blue Ridge Mountains to West Coasters or to various tropical corners of the world would appear as mere foothills to motherfuckers like these, mildly comatose giants with the power to leave gigantic craters on the face of Mother Earth if they got pissed enough.

I received the go ahead from the magazine to cover one of Seattle’s favorite sons. The explosive vocalist of Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, and Audioslave: Chris Cornell.

Cornell, having etched his place in rock history since his bombastic debut in the late 80’s with Soundgarden’s Screaming Life, has a kind of seraphim-like, vocal acuity which has birthed songs that have soared far above the heights of Washington’s most famous peak and into the heavens.

He graced the City of Richmond with his presence on June 22nd and for over two hours no one in the audience had any intention of coming down.

I sat cross-legged on the floor sometime around 3AM in a hotel room, long after leaving the Carpenter Theatre, rocking back and forth, grinding my teeth, still drinking Corona, chain smoking, and thanking aloud whomever this priority mail, Abel Magwitchesque, benefactor was.

I thought long and hard about the musical experience I’d just witnessed. What songs had I heard? How many songs exactly had he played?

I began to take an inventory of the evening. Trying to piece it together as accurately as possible.

I certainly remembered the two women who appeared 20 minutes after the show had begun.

Barreling down the aisle carrying shopping bags of merchandise, cameras, wearing backpacks, and holding refreshments. Interrupting Fantastic Negrito’s half-hour opening set.

“Somebody loves you,” I thought, glaring at the women as they situated themselves on either side of me.

I watched the indignant stares of concertgoers in the row behind and the row we shared and knew these people wanted blood. I was not alone in wanting these women fed to the wolves or ground into a fine edible powder to be served to the unhappy residents of Guantanamo Bay.

“America, are you gonna make it?” Xavier Dphrepaulezz, mastermind behind Fantastic Negrito, asked the audience.

With these kinds of people sitting next to me, I thought, certainly not.

He sang with a kind of soulful croon that was far from expected from whom I’d assumed to be an unknown. But even the wild women next to me knew lyrics to his songs, “bitch, eat my cancer,” for instance. I was the ignorant concertgoer in this row. Another song was generically titled “Lost in the Crowd” but I thought, Jesus H. Christ, who is this man? Why am I the only one without a clue as to who he is, and for the next few minutes I forgot about the hyenas sitting next to me who would surely chew me into jagged cubes during intermission. It was a good time to gravitate towards the wine bar before one of the strongest jaws in the animal kingdom had its teeth lodged into my femur. I left.

Outside, I huffed down two cigarettes under the marquee before filing behind other Richmonders eager to hear the megavoice about to take the stage. Two cups of Cabernet Sauvignon, a shitty tip, and I was, myself this time, walking swiftly down to retake my seat.

Unfortunately, I forgot to wear glasses and overshot my destination to the row just in front of the one I had been assigned. As I sat down, uttering inaudible swear words under my breath, Chris Cornell took the stage and I realized the four seats around me were unoccupied.

This is a trap.

Could this be some African safari with Hemmingway at the helm or that son of a bitch from Jumangi brandishing an elephant gun and wearing a monocle? I looked back in the direction of my seat, questioning whether or not I should tuck my tail between my legs and make way back to the proper resting spot; then I watched the hyenas fumble with their cameras and soft drinks, having claimed both of the arm rests.

Fuck it, I thought. I’ll see you in Hell.

Despite what I’d ingested from the package earlier, I had the presence of mind to realize, if expected to move by the rightful owner of the seat I occupied or by an usher with the eye of a hawk and the knowhow of a penitentiary screw, I’d better suck down this first glass of wine so as not to spill any of its contents on the laps of patrons I had to shamefully step-over. The pariah of the evening.

Time dripped, as Cornell sang with the collected pipes of a Scottish funeral, making direct-hits on covers like Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” a rendition of Bob Dylan’s 1964 tune “The Times They Are A Changin’,” Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song,” and Wacko Jacko’s “Billie Jean.”

Each song eschewing its own meteoric rise as this man’s near four-octave voice rocketed up to the rafters like the grand finale of Independence Day or the sound off of one of the world’s sixteen Decade Volcanoes, threatening to blow the roof off the planet. Not bad for a man born the same year as the Dylan song he’d covered.

Beads of sweat appeared on my forehead.

God no. There he was.

Down the aisle a man with a determined look shuffled drunkenly in my direction. My father had the same look every time he signed up for karaoke. I knew this was the end of the line. The end of the road. My number was up.

This must be his seat.

But it wasn’t. He sat in the seat next to mine. And no one was with him. No girlfriend or wife. No coworker or roommate. No child. He was alone. Maybe I’m in the clear.

And then an eerie chill climbed up my back. This is what they want you to think.

Just when you relax your guard they put one behind your ear and drag you out back to feed you to the sewer rats. Ushers in these classier establishments are not ones to toy with. Like using a stick to poke at a gorilla through the bars of a cage or talking to a bored city cop for too long. It’s playing with fire while soaked in gasoline. I needed an ally. A person to block the defender as I ran for the end zone. So I began to engage this man. Things were primitive at first, mostly hand gestures and signals, until I realized we both spoke the same fluent slur.

The man began to talk. At length. And this was something I quickly learned he liked to do.
Soon, the indigenous peoples of row 5 began to eye us. The woman directly in front of me repeatedly engaged a switchblade. Her husband looked at me as he cracked his knuckles. Panic set in. They assumed I was pals with this man.

I looked longingly back at my other seat. The hyenas there had filled my spot with their belongings. There was no going back. The territory had been marked. I was a dead man.
I crossed my leg in the opposite direction and finished my second cup of wine. My back was turned, the tell-tale sign that the conversation was over, but the man beside me continued to talk. Cornell covered Soundgarden’s “Fell On Black Days “and transitioned right into Audioslave’s “Doesn’t Remind Me.” Then, after some in between song banter, he began the opening notes to “Blow Up The Outside World” which, by its close, had grown into a looped, psychedelic monster that wrapped its invisible fingers around all of us and squeezed. It seemed to last a year.

During this, I was luckily able to tune the man beside me out and fall down into the figurative rabbit hole. Remembering the first time I’d heard Superunknown at a swimming pool in the summer of 1994. Receiving Down On The Upside for Christmas two years later. The devastated feeling of turning up the volume on DC101 in 1997 to discover that my favorite band had indeed called it quits. Buying their back catalogue from Screaming Life to Ultramega OK to Louder Than Love to Badmotorfinger.

Being sent by a newspaper in 2003 to cover Cornell and Audioslave on their debut tour at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia, then later that year, their stop in Fairfax on the rebooted Lollapalooza tour. Having Loud Love tattooed on my arm one drunken night in Devil’s Triangle. Traveling to Washington D.C., with my ex-wife, to cover Soundgarden’s reunion tour for their comeback album King Animal. The summer evenings and winter nights playing and replaying specifics from Cornell’s solo record Euphoria Morni…wha??

Something was poking my arm. If you buy me a glass of wine I’ll get you one too, the man beside me said. The couple in front began to glow like magma.

I handed him $20 and shimmied down, below any radar, in my seat. Well, you might as well be out of your mind on cheap wine and narcotics if these maniacs get to you, I thought.

I palmed the last of the things from my pocket into my mouth and listened as Cornell jettisoned into the stratosphere with Temple of the Dog’s “Say Hello To Heaven.” And just for a moment everyone in attendance forgot about the presidential election and gluten and tattoos and Twitter and hashtags and Scientology and Game of Thrones and craft beers. All of us seeing the summit of Mount Rainier first hand.

The next several songs were uninterrupted. Casual smoke machines emanated a light, screen of camouflage into the air, almost brimming an achtung. There was Audioslave’s “I Am The Highway” which I’d previously felt was a phoned in dirge, yet it had its own peculiar majesty despite it lyrically being something scraped from a cob. “Misery Chain” from McQueen’s Twelve Years A Slave was a haunting reminder of Cornell’s acoustic version of “Like Suicide” and the piano driven “When I’m Down from Euphoria Morning.” Each of the three spewing forth his signature yowl.

The man beside me came back down the aisle with the wine and the next songs were a blur of anxiety, drunkenness, insanity, and “Rusty Cage” and “Black Hole Sun” and “Hunger Strike” and “Wooden Jesus.”

“Wooden Jesus. I cut you in” Cornell sang.

This was a sign.

Yes. Wooden Jesus. I had to get the Christ out of there before the place collapsed into some type of Trump-mandated abyss, traveling down into the outer rings of the seventh circle of Hell. Encore be damned. I wanted to live.

The theatre erupted into an ovation of applause. I ducked behind the back of the man beside me, the other standing patrons of the aisle, bucking my wine, and praying to God almighty that I’d make it out before these fucking animals knew I’d made a run for it.

Then fresh air. I’d made it.

And there I was hours later. Rocking back and forth, grinding my teeth, cross-legged on the floor of a hotel room somewhere in Richmond, VA. God had shed his grace on me.

A man does these things. Sometimes it’s playing rock songs to be heard by generations of people for all of recorded time. Sometimes it’s getting drunk and speaking to the person next to him at a movie or acoustic show. Sometimes a man writes a ridiculous love letter to Raoul Duke about a drugged out, drunken night in the former capital of the Confederacy.

A man doesn’t know why he does these things. A man just does them. No apologies. No excuses. Just the drive and will to live something other than what has been laid out before him and nothing, not even you, can take that away.

Brad Kutner

Brad Kutner

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