The Soundgarden faithful who crowded the Fox Theatre in Detroit Wednesday night were a mix of longtime listeners and first-time fans. None knew it would be lead singer Chris Cornell's last show, but as three of them reflected on his performance each was struck by something different.
Cornell, one of most celebrated and respected singers in contemporary rock, killed himself in a Detroit hotel room after the show. He was 52.
Bailey Soulliere grew up listening to Cornell's gravelly voice. Her dad was a huge fan and strains of Soundgarden would often fill the air of her childhood home, forming the "backdrop of her life."
But the 21-year-old member of a Windsor heavy metal band never thought she would get to see the band live. Then on Thursday a friend called her out of the blue — she somehow had tickets to the show and wanted to know if Soulliere would go with her.
"We were three rows from the furthest possible row, but stoked to be there and super excited," she said, adding she couldn't wait to tell her dad.
Mallak Kassem only started listening to Soundgarden in the past year, but their sound and songs spoke to her right away.
When the 21-year-old found tickets to the show she instantly knew who she had to bring. One call to Soulliere and the pair were on their way to Detroit.
Jim Thibert has been a Soundgarden fan since the group formed in the 1980s. Thursday's show at the Fox marked the third time he saw them take the stage and blast out what he describes as their "beautiful, wonderful wall of sound."
Cornell's unique voice is what drew him to the band, that and his ability to do what other performers couldn't.
"He was essentially taking music in places other musicians had never gone," said Thibert.
'He was electrifying, he was animated'
As the lights dimmed for Soundgarden to come on stage, fans talked among themselves, swapping stories of past shows and favourite songs. When the lights came up on Cornell's last performance, Soulliere, Kassem and Thibert all saw something different.
For Kassem, the fresh fan, it was excitement.
"They came on stage, the entire crowd erupted and people were crazy excited," she said.
For Thibert, the 50-something veteran, it was another incredible show with Cornell giving everything he had.
"He was engaging with the crowd, he was electrifying, he was animated, he was definitely into what he was doing," he said. "It looked like they were 20 years old last night … having the time of their lives."
For Soulliere, who logged hours listening to Cornell croon and answer interview questions, something seemed a bit off.
"I just saw in him exhaustion," she said. "From a person's stage performance you don't see their inner conflict and their struggle and their pain. You're watching someone you hardly believe is really human lay everything he had on stage."
Notes that he usually had "in his pocket" seemed to escape him," Soulliere added.
What they saw at the show was different, but when they woke up Thursday to news of his death, all three fans felt the same way — grateful they could see the star before he was gone.
Soulliere said she was shaken up and would be taking time to listen to Cornell's music in his memory. Kassem said she felt sad, but honoured to have seen his last show. For Thibert, there was grief, but anger too.
"I was sitting there and I was getting frustrated with the fact this is the truth, this is what happened and I can't change it," he said. "This happens all too often to musicians. It begs the question what goes on in the music industry for some of the brightest and most talented people to come to this."
Thibert said he'll be considering that question for weeks.