As a photojournalist, I often find myself trying to find ways to write about a band’s performance so that a person not in attendance can read along, view my photos and feel as though they didn’t miss a thing. I go to bed and wake up with a clear mind, then recreate what I saw and how I felt as I put pen to paper . It isn’t often that you wake up to news that a person you’ve seen the night before passed away while you were sleeping.
I’ve spent the better part of the day travelling from Detroit, Michigan to Columbus, Ohio to cover Rock on the Range this weekend, where Soundgarden was set to perform Friday night. Listening to local radio stations along the way share their stories and inspiration paying tribute to Chris Cornell, who died on Wednesday night, was amazing, As I continue to wrap my head around the magnitude of what has occurred, I will keep speculation and personal thoughts aside.
Walking up to the Fox Theatre in Downtown Detroit, Michigan, the line spread for what seemed like an eternity. People patiently waiting for the doors to open to grunge icons Soundgarden.The Pretty Reckless acted as direct support and the only opening act, starting the show at 8pm on the dot. The four piece ensemble fronted by Taylor Momsen, set the tone for a night of rock that had some people driving for hours to attend.
During the set change, awaiting the 9:15 start time, I stood out on Woodward under the marquee of what would end up being Soundgarden’s last performance. I spoke with people who were walking back and forth trying to pick up extra tickets, and ran into a die-hard fan that drove from Toronto, Ontario by himself in hopes of picking up a last minute sell off ticket to see the group that he grew up on.
With the stage set, and the Fox Theater packed solid with a sold out crowd, the house lights dimmed and out walked Soundgarden. Without hesitation the lighting rig lit up and Chris Cornell and the boys laid into a 17 song set with a 2 song encore starting with “Ugly Truth.” Playing older hits such as “Spoonman,” “Black Hole Sun,” and “Outshined” mixed with new ones, Chris often took breaks to interact with the crowd, and speak volumes of how great Detroit Rock City was as a place to play live. Stating at one point “I’ve bragged for over 30 years about how great Detroit is,” and “I feel bad for the next city” putting the point in place that no one could rock as hard as they were going to tonight.
There were moments where he stopped singing and let the crowd take over, whether he forgot the words, or just wanted more crowd interaction is anyone’s speculation. It was seemingly visible where the vocals weren’t in proper time with the music, where he would pause and come back in. Another hiccup was his lack of a back up guitar for “Been Away Too Long,” which he not so graciously pointed out after walking off stage for a short period of time, causing the band to play an instrumental loop and start over.
Now I’ve been to shows where a lead vocalist sang twice as fast as the music, and had to start over, as well as a show more recently in which a secondary mic wouldn’t pick up an effect causing the lead singer to walk off stage and have a conversation with a tech. Neither of these two passed away the next day, so most fans chalked it up to human error or perhaps drunkenness.
I believe in a time of mourning, people shouldn’t look back on a performance and pick it apart to see what signs may or may not have been there. Instead, we should be thankful for the opportunity of being present in that moment, and enjoy and rejoice the show. I’m thankful for the moments Chris shared with Detroit last night, fist bumping and shaking hands with the crowd, and so were those that were in attendance. No one knew then that we would all be a part of history.