INGLEWOOD, Calif. – The amps were cranked up and the emotions were flowing at the Forum in Los Angeles Wednesday night as musical friends and big-name admirers paid tribute to Chris Cornell, the late grunge pioneer who fronted Soundgarden and later Audioslave.
It was a vast show of affection that drew rock powerhouses (Metallica), pop stars (Miley Cyrus) and celebrities (Brad Pitt) to the Forum stage, just shy of 20 months after the singer/songwriter died by suicide in a Detroit hotel in, 2017.
The nearly five-hour “I Am the Highway: A Tribute to Chris Cornell” was at times reverent, often raucous, as Cornell’s sprawling body of work was celebrated for a capacity crowd that included Leonardo DiCaprio, Christian Bale, Gene Simmons, Tom Hanks and Courteney Cox.
As a rain befitting Cornell's hometown of Seattle came down outside, fans in the Forum were spoiled for choice by a loose-knit concert that saw one musician after another coming, going, and coming again throughout the show.
“Chris is here with us tonight,” Soundgarden drummer andMatt Cameron said atop the show. “He has the best seat in the house.”
Some memorable moments:
Soundgarden’s surviving members reunite
For the first time since that ill-fated night in Detroit in May 2017 – when Cornell was found dead – Cameron performed publicly with his Soundgarden bandmates, guitarist Kim Thayil, bassist Ben Shepherd and Matt Cameron performed together onstage publicly. (Thayil and Cameron were also part of last year’s MC5 anniversary tour.)
They closed Wednesday’s tribute show with an intense, eight-song Soundgarden set that included vocals from "Gossip Girl"actress/singer Taylor Momsen , country-rocker Brandi Carlile and Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins, while MC5's Wayne Kramer and Cornell's Audioslave bandmate Tom Morello picked up their guitars and joined up for the serpentine highlight “Loud Love.”
Peter Frampton was a surprise guest, stepping out to trade solos with Thayil as Carlile led the crowd in a “Black Hole Sun” singalong to wrap up the long night.
Ryan Adams makes it his own
Few song interpretations Wednesday were rendered as deeply and fully as the pair by Adams. The mercurial singer-songwriter, joined by a string quartet and Don Was on upright bass, delivered an achingly gorgeous version of the Cornell solo number “Dead Wishes,” dedicated to Adams’ own recently deceased brother. And he peeled back “Fell on Black Days,” lacing it with elegant guitar work, to find the plaintive raw material at the heart of the 1994 Soundgarden hit.
Miley Cyrus holds her own
On a night that kicked off with a hot slab of Seattle rock by the grizzled grunge vets the Melvins, appearances by the likes of Miley Cyrus may have raised a few eyebrows in the Forum. But the chameleonic pop star has previously proven she knows how to invest in a song when needed, and she did it again at the Cornell show: Cyrus, who earlier Wednesday had shot down pregnancy rumors, hit the stage in a sparkly minidress to score with a rich acoustic cover of Cornell’s “Two Drink Minimum,” then returned to join Temple of the Dog for an impressive “Say Hello 2 Heaven.”
Dave Grohl gets personal
Having kicked off his four-song Foo Fighters segment with a barreling cover of Soundgarden’s “No Attention,” Dave Grohl, who marked his 50th birthday on Monday, eventually pulled things back to reflect on his late Seattle rock comrade.
“I gotta be honest – I woke up a little sad this morning. I realized that with all this love, the one person who would have appreciated it can’t be here tonight,” Grohl said before delivering a poignant one-man rendition of the Foos’ “Everlong.”
Temple of the Dog gets eclectic
Cornell’s 1990s side project with members of Pearl Jam was commemorated by a set with PJ’s Stone Gossard acting as ringmaster and Jeff Ament popping up on bass. Hopes of an Eddie Vedder cameo faded when Carlile and Chris Stapleton emerged to sing the 1991 hit “Hunger Strike,” but concertgoers did get Alice in Chains’ Jerry Cantrell and William DuVall for Soundgarden's “Hunted Down,” Fiona Apple on a blues-touched “All Night Thing” and R&B singer Miguel displaying his rock chops on “Reach Down.”
Audioslave brings the guests (for better and worse)
Fireworks-inducing guitarist Tom Morello and drummer Brad Wilk held the reins Wednesday for Cornell’s best-known 21st-century project, kicking off with a tough and taut “Cochise” — joined by Geezer Butler (Black Sabbath) and Perry Farrell (Jane’s Addiction). Grohl and Metallica’s Robert Trujillo helped out with a fiery “Show Me How to Live,” while the versatile Brandi Carlile — three days after performing at Aretha Franklin’s tribute show — turned in a solid “Like a Stone.”
Less fortunate was actress Juliette Lewis, who served up a flailing-haired clunker while attempting Audioslave’s “ Be Yourself.”
Metallica gives a mini-Metallica concert
Introduced by comedian Jack Black doing his slaphappy-rocker shtick — he briefly joined James Hetfield on “One” — Metallica performed Soundgarden’s “All Your Lies” before launching into a lengthy twofer of the band’s own “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “Master of Puppets.” The metal giants steered back to Soundgarden to wrap things up — but had to call a do-over after a screwy start on “Head Injury.”
Chris Cornell’s family was part of the show throughout, including a segment — introduced by Brad Pitt — featuring 14-year-old Toni Cornell teaming with Ziggy Marley for a poised cover of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.”
The singer's widow, Vicky Cornell, who spearheaded the concert, announced that the show had generated more than $1 million for the Chris and Vicky Cornell Foundation and the Epidermolysis Bullosa Medical Research Foundation.
“It is so important to me that tonight would be an intimate gathering of our closest friends and family, shared with the fans who loved him so much," she said. "And it’s all come together to celebrate and honor Chris.”
Contact Detroit Free Press music writer Brian McCollum: 313-223-4450 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Stars celebrate Chris Cornell in 5-hour tribute show: The big moments