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You know my name: Chris Cornell.

All Night Thing

By John Brodeur

Chris Cornell

Northern Lights, Nov. 10

‘This is the most packed-in I’ve ever seen any club in my life,” Chris Cornell told his faithful Saturday night. He was surely bullshitting, but it was a nice enough gesture, though all he really needed to do to win over the sold-out Northern Lights audience was open his mouth and let out one of those rafter-rattling howls.

And the former Soundgarden and Audioslave vocalist did exactly that, often, from the opening salvo of “Let Me Drown” (from 1994’s Superunknown) to the lengthy show-closing excursion through the classic Badmotorfinger dirge “Slaves and Bulldozers”—which morphed, by the way, into “Whole Lotta Love.” (If you thought Cornell would do a killer Robert Plant, you thought right). Flanked by a four-piece band that brought energy and chops to his wide and varied catalog, Cornell really didn’t have to do any “heavy lifting,” as one concertgoer put it—the only time he went near a guitar was for a six-song solo set—and half the time he didn’t even need to sing. (The thousand-or-so dudes singing “Outshined” didn’t sound half bad, actually.)

Cornell did not disappoint on Saturday, even if he didn’t quite reach for that ridiculous high note on “Jesus Christ Pose.” (He did, however, assume said pose during “Show Me How to Live.”) Despite looking a mite disheveled, his hair blown-out into an exaggerated bedhead, the 43-year-old Cornell seemed reenergized by his new group; he strode about the stage, shook hands with audience members, even lost his shirt—twice. The set included tunes from all phases of his great career, including “Can’t Change Me” from his 1999 solo debut Euphoria Morning, no less than three from the Temple of the Dog project, and a handful from this year’s solo follow-up, Carry On. All of it was brought to fruit by Cornell’s inimitable voice, one of the very best of the rock era.

And the band, bunch of hired guns that they were, were just as capable as, if not more than, anyone who’s lined up behind Cornell thus far. This deserves mention because, until Saturday night, I hated pretty much everything Audioslave put out after their first album. Now I know why: That band, Cornell plus the three non-de la Rocha members of Rage Against the Machine, were a tight band for sure, but they lacked finesse. This group, featuring guitarists Yogi Lonich and Peter Thorn, plus the fantastic Sutter, were elastic, whether raging away like a bunch of pissed-off punks on “Ty Cobb” (the sole selection from Soundgarden’s final disc) or just stepping out of the way for Cornell to shine on “Sunshower.” Tom Morello and company surely couldn’t hang with the old-school Seattle style of “Pushin’ Forward Back,” but these cats got deep into the spirit of the (Pearl) jam, and it was excellent.

Not to mention that the Audioslave tunes, especially the Zeppelicious groove of “Cochise,” were given enough breathing room to actually sound fun—a nice change of pace from that group’s formulaic drone. Even the moody rendition of Jacko’s “Billie Jean” had a mighty pulse. Best club show of the year? Check.

Band Out of Time

Blue Ribbon Boys with Julia Gottlieb, Shotgun Party

Club Helsinki, Great Barrington, Mass., Nov. 9

Local heroes the Blue Ribbon Boys with Julia Gottlieb took the mothership on a trip in the wayback machine Friday night, celebrating the release of their new eponymous CD. Which is a big fat party to start with, but they also dragged Austin swingsters Shotgun Party in for the ride. This was an audacious, luxurious night of music.

The Blue Ribbon Boys’ genius lies in their complete embrace of early swing music, without a smidgen of pretense, irony, or any of the rootie-tootie whoop-de-do that old-timey bands too often use to sell their shtick. There’s no shtick here, just folks effortlessly playing hipster music of a couple of generations ago, straight up.

Songs range from nuggets from the ’30s and ’40s, spectacular dead-on originals (bassist Sauerkraut Seth Travins has written a bunch of tunes that capture the gestalt of the era, like the sublime “Mr. Man on the Moon”) and a handful of oddball contemporary covers that they manage to morph into their sepia-toned world. Their takes of Daniel Johnston’s “It’s Impossible” and Kurt Cobain’s “Heart Shaped Box” sound like they just rolled off the Victrola. And that’s just ridiculous.

The band were restrained and forceful at the same time, with colors provided by Matt Downing’s tenor guitar, Teddy Weber’s lap steel, the sweet fiddle of Lucas Swartz, and the utterly subversive clarinet playing of Lyon Kraulty.

Vocalist Julia Gottlieb is the glue that holds it all together. Gottlieb is a masterful singer, with a laconic, sultry delivery that smiles at you sensuously through the smoke. I’m sure she could sing a wicked bossa nova, too, except in the parallel universe of the Blue Ribbon Boys, the style hasn’t been invented yet. Maybe they’ll invent it.

Unheralded opening trio Shotgun Party blew the house away with a set of Texas swing that had one foot among the tumbleweeds and the other in outer space. Singer Jenny Parrot has an arresting, brassy voice with a permanent, fluttering vibrato, and a stage presence that was just art-school enough to let you know somebody up there’s a-thinkin’. Kind of like a two-step Björk, without the annoyance factor. Fiddler Kay Rose Cox gets virtuoso honors for the night; her solos were hair-raising, heroic statements. Shotgun Party will be back, and when they are, go.

—Paul Rapp


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