Chris Cornell’s voice contained multitudes. Both his actual instrument and his songwriting voice could convey tenderness and ferocity, fear and bravado, anguish and ecstasy in equal measures in his solo work and as frontman for the bands Soundgarden, Audioslave, and Temple of the Dog. So it was only fitting that a multitude of artists would unite to celebrate that voice at a benefit concert dubbed I Am The Highway: A Tribute to Chris Cornell on Wednesday at The Forum in Los Angeles.
Hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, more than 30 artists performed over 40 songs during an exhilarating and exhausting five hour show. The list of participants included Metallica, Foo Fighters, Miley Cyrus, Miguel, Chris Stapleton, Brandi Carlile, the Melvins, Fiona Apple, members of Alice in Chains, and Peter Frampton. Some performed on their own, others with Cornell’s bandmates in Soundgarden, Audioslave, or Temple of the Dog, making for an evening that spanned multiple genres, eras, and moods. Actors like Brad Pitt, Kaley Cuoco, Jack Black, and Courteney Cox dropped by to introduce artists and shine a light on the night’s charitable aspect. (The event raised over one million dollars for the Chris and Vicky Cornell Foundation and the Epidermolysis Bullosa Medical Research Foundation.) And videos of Cornell, who died in 2017, showing him in all his lithe, leonine grace were interspersed between acts.
There were entertainingly bonkers segues: the Melvins’ thrash into Rita Wilson’s gentleness was an early left turn as was a blistering Metallica set that gave way to a pastoral Ryan Adams. There were surprise standouts as Cyrus won over the crowd with her passion and power and Adam Levine of Maroon 5 reverently handled the Singles soundtrack favorite “Seasons.” And there were inspired pairings including Stapleton and Carlile on a sublime “Hunger Strike.” The setlist featured some of Cornell’s biggest hits as well as deep cuts from his work with his bands and on his solo albums (a couple of the artists threw in their own songs as well). The night was light on spoken emotional sentiment but heavy on passionate musical expression as the musicians poured their hearts and voices into their homages.
Whether it was R&B singer Miguel reaching deep down to excavate the heart of “Reach Down” or Jimmy Page sending a lovely video message or Cornell’s daughter Toni singing a sweet rendition of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” — introduced by Pitt and accompanied by Ziggy Marley on acoustic guitar — Cornell’s legacy was done proud in a night filled with tears and laughter.
While some voices and songs were sorely missed — including Temple of the Dog members Eddie Vedder and Mike McCready, Audioslave’s Tim Commerford, and ailing Faith No More vocalist Mike Patton — the night was a powerful reminder of the healing power of music.
Here were a few of our favorite moments:
Jack Black, Stone Gossard, Tom Morello, and Taylor Hawkins wax rhapsodic
The actor, the Pearl Jam/Temple of the Dog guitarist, the Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave guitarist, and the Foo Fighters drummer each took a moment throughout the night to praise Cornell both as an artist and a man. Black may have described Cornell’s voice best by saying that he could sing a note that was actually so magical “it would open a portal into another dimension.”
Miley reaches for heaven
While some in the crowd might have wondered about the pop star’s presence, when she ripped into the Temple of the Dog ballad “Say Hello 2 Heaven,” it was clear Cyrus was a Cornell fan. Her energy and enthusiasm rippled through the crowd who were cheering her impassioned take by song’s end.
Chris Stapleton and Brandi Carlile strike gold
The beloved, bearded country star and the acclaimed Americana singer-songwriter ably subbed for Cornell and Eddie Vedder on the imploring Temple of the Dog anthem “Hunger Strike.” Stapleton also expertly tackled the ruminative Cornell solo song “The Keeper” while Carlile returned to help close the night with the Soundgarden classic “Black Hole Sun” with Peter Frampton adding firepower to the band’s line-up of drummer Matt Cameron, guitarist Kim Thayil, and bassist Ben Shepherd, who graciously welcomed their guests with impeccable playing.
Metallica masters Soundgarden
At a juncture when the marathon show needed a jolt, the mighty metal mavens arrived to generate some shockwaves with a pair of early Soundgarden songs from Ultramega OK (“All Your Lies” and “Head Injury”) as well as a a twofer of their own fleet and fiery “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “Master of Puppets.”
Audioslave sets it off
This entire set was one of the night’s highlights as Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters, Metallica bassist Rob Trujillo, Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler, and Perry Farrell were among those who stepped up to help the group’s (unfairly maligned at the time) brand of sinuous hybrid of hard rock, funk, and pop. Farrell took lead on “Cochise” while Grohl roared through “Show Me How to Live.” And Carlile, who may have been the night’s hardest working guest, sang “Like a Stone.”
As noted the show raised over one million dollars for various organizations, including the Epidermolysis Bullosa Medical Research Foundation and the Chris and Vicky Cornell Foundation, which were near and dear to the rocker’s heart.
Actor Josh Brolin introduced Cornell’s widow Vicky, to illuminate and thank the audience.