How can you hope to fully honor an artist of the magnitude of Chris Cornell in a single evening? As a singer, his octave-scaling voice was beyond peer. As a songwriter, he made his mark time and again with dark, emotive, and affecting lyrics that influenced whole generations and touched the hearts of millions across the world. And as a frontman, well, whatever it is — that indescribable mix of charisma, bravado, mystery and raw sexual power — Cornell had more of it than nearly any human who’s ever picked up a microphone.
The answer, at least according to the organizers behind the I Am The Highway tribute concert on Wednesday night, was to pack the Forum in Inglewood, California with several dozen of the most famous, talented, and beloved musicians on the planet and let them have at it for five continuous hours of nonstop action. The sheer breadth of the talent assembled, across so many genres of music, told the story of Chris’s eclectic, artistic life in a way that defied comprehension. It was the kind of show that his memory demanded. The kind of show that his friends, family and the 18,000 or so fans gathered together in that large arena will never forget.
The whole event was a rock lover’s dream, a Gen-X version of The Last Waltz or the Concert For George. Beginning with the Melvins’ chaotic and extremely loud set — mimicking their opening appearance ahead of Soundgarden at the band’s Motorvision show at the Paramount Theater in Seattle in 1992 — you were taken on an aural journey through Cornell’s unique sonic palate. Metallica brutalized with renditions of early Soundgarden cuts like “Head Injury” and “All Your Lies,” mixed with their own song “Master Of Puppets” because why the hell not? Foo Fighters dialed up one of Cornell’s deep, solo cuts “The Keeper,” before the rest of the band left their leader Grohl alone to dedicate a tear-jerking take of his song “Everlong” to his departed friend. Queens of the Stone Age front man Josh Homme stunned with an unorthodox, solo take on Johnny Cash’s arrangement of Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage.”
As a spectator, you were hardly given room to breathe before someone like Ryan Adams hitting you with a gut-wrenching, full-string take on Soundgarden’s “Fell on Black Days.” Or Chris Stapleton and Brandi Carlile joining Temple of the Dog for “Hunger Strike.” Or Adam Levine using his lithe falsetto to bring Cornell’s solo Singles composition “Seasons” to life, next to Pearl Jam founder Stone Gossard on acoustic guitar. Surprises abounded, and things that seemed like they wouldn’t work on paper turned into some of the evening’s biggest highlights. Jack Black scatting his way through an a cappella rendition of “Spoonman” to kill time ahead of Metallica’s appearance is a perfect example.