Chris Cornell was a galvanizing singer, whether solo, with Soundgarden or Temple of the Dog or Audioslave, or on any of his many guest appearances. The albums and songs were great, but they pale compared to the spectacle of his live performance.
In the early days he was shirtless, hair-flailing, stomping around the stage in army boots, climbing lighting rigs and and crowd-surfing with gusto. And while his performances became calmer and more measured — pretty much when he cut his hair around ’94 — his commanding presence and deeply powerful Robert Plant/Roger Daltrey-level voice, remained. And tragically, he died early Thursday at the age of 52, shortly after giving his last performance in Detroit, one of his favorite cities to play.
Luckily, ample footage exists of Cornell in many different live settings (although unfortunately nothing strong seems available from the band’s 1994 “Superunknown” tour). Here are some highlights from across his career.
Soundgarden with original bassist Hiro Yamamoto performing at a 1989 in-store at Rhino Records in Los Angeles:
On tour in Europe in 1990, supporting “Louder Than Love” — here is the beginning of the intense dynamic that would characterize the band in later years:
The 1992 Lollapalooza tour happened not long after the release of “Badmotorfinger,” and Soundgarden’s performances on that tour remain some of their most intense. Here in Bremerton, Washington, the band performs “Outshined,” with some vocal backing help from Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder:
One of Soundgarden’s most memorable 1992 performances was captured at the Pink Pop festival in the Netherlands, showcasing Cornell’s strength as a frontman as well as his vocal power:
Soundgarden released a video called “Motorvision” in 1993, containing a riveting live performance from the Paramount Theater in Seattle as well as vignettes of the band driving around in their band. Here, in this segment where Cornell “interviews” Sub Pop Records cofounder Jonathan Poneman, his sense of humor is on display:
Soundgarden is probably best known for their 1994 album Superunknown. Here from 2012 is a fantastic performance of “The Day I Tried To Live,” which is indistinguishable (if not better) than his performances when the album was released:
In 1996, Soundgarden commemorated the release of Down On The Upside with a performance on Saturday Night Live. Here’s their powerful performance of “Burden In My Hand,” which also showcases Cornell’s virtuosity as a rhythm guitarist:
After Soundgarden, Chris Cornell joined up with members of Rage Against The Machine to form Audioslave. Here they are performing live for the first time on David Letterman in 2002:
In 2011, Cornell was a special guest at Pearl Jam’s PJ20 celebration at Alpine Valley. Here, he performs “Say Hello 2 Heaven” from “Temple of the Dog,” a song he wrote for his friend Andy Wood, lead singer of Mother Love Bone, who died in 1990:
At a few concerts in New Jersey in 2011, Cornell performed a gorgeous version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” and an accurately eerie “State Trooper,” solo and acoustic:
“Seasons,” Live in Seattle, 11/21/16: In this live footage, Cornell tells the story of how he came to write this song, one of two Soundgarden contributed to Cameron Crowe’s Singles soundtrack in 1992. It’s a bleak and haunting number, and despite never having performed the 25-year-old song in a live before, he moves from delicate timbre to full-throated vocals with ease:
Finally, while not a live performance, Cornell’s rendition of “Ave Maria” should not be missed: