@ Newcastle City Hall, June 20 2012

As Chris Cornell delivered his damning verdict on Alive he could hardly have anticipated the biggest Kiss fan in Newcastle was sitting yards away and growing increasingly incredulous by the minute.

Poised to roll up the trouser leg that would reveal a tattooed tribute to his favourite glam rock four-piece, the furious chap in question was only placated by the first bars of Beth – a humorous and half-hearted attempt to backtrack by the Soundgarden singer. 

But then Cornell the solo performer is a charmer, a perfect gentleman and one of the most affable characters in music. Cheeky chat and vague reminiscences punctuated a set featuring a plethora of familiar tunes from a chunky back catalogue and this was one night that could have lasted forever.

Isolated and yet invigorated, Cornell appears incredibly comfortable delivering his Songbook set with nothing more than a rack of guitars, a record player, red telephone and comfy chair for company. And even a brazen challenge to perform a mid-set duet didn’t faze this most consummate of performers.

When ‘Ben’ shouted out from somewhere behind row J that he’d love to get up and perform Outshined with his ultimate hero a rather taken aback Cornell was understandably reticent.

However, a few songs later and Ben’s unlikely dream was a reality – the wide-eyed Geordie lad playing lead to his idol’s vocals and the partnership worked a treat. Cornell’s fear that both men ‘would look like asses’ was wholly unfounded – in fact both men looked like buddies jamming in the corner of a Seattle coffee shop and the effect was wholly heartwarming.

If Soundgarden fans were in the house to hear Black Hole Sun then those devotees of Temple Of The Dog and Audioslave were treated to choice cuts from both bands. Wooden Jesus and Wide Awake prompted ripples of polite applause and provided further proof that Cornell has always steered clear of convention and career safety.

Yet this superior set was only two songs old when the emotive Hope & Promise Fade illustrated that point. Seasons and Sunshower continued to push the eclectic envelope but surely the secret of the Songbook tour’s success is the canny juxtaposition of tunes not normally deemed obvious live bedfellows? This is a show that throws up surprises, constantly asks questions and reinforces the power of the passionate singer songwriter.

Cornell’s riotous cover of Redemption Song energised the encore and encapsulated the mood. This was a special night when one of rock’s most sublime talents allowed himself to be judged up close and personal. The verdict? Guilty of greatness.

Simon Rushworth

Picture courtesy of John Burrows at ishootgigs