2005 / Live Reviews / Music

Concert Review: Audioslave Returns With The Past

Supergroup Hits Road With New Album Coming

MINNEAPOLIS — I was caught in sea of sweaty humanity. My ears were ringing from the deafening volume, and the soundwaves from heavy metal riffs took turns slamming into my gut. I was at the mercy of this tightly-packed, undulating crowd of zombies who reeked like a locker room.

Photo: Epic Records/Interscope Records

Photo: Epic Records/Interscope Records

Getting elbowed, kicked in the head by crowd surfers, and sweated upon by the Great Unwashed wasn’t exactly conducive to taking notes. And yet, I was somehow having a great time.

Truly, the worst part about heavy rock supergroup Audioslave is their fans. For every serious fan drawn in by the guitar histrionics or the band members’ stance on dialectical materialism, there are at least a dozen jock-ish goons that just want to act out and break stuff (thank you, Fred Durst). For them, Rage Against The Machine’s chant of “f*** you, I won’t do what you tell me” is not a battle cry of the dispossessed, but instead an excuse for a testosterone-fueled tantrum by spoiled frat boys.

But it was evident watching Audioslave’s concert last Thursday at the Quest in Minneapolis that their fans’ pure enthusiasm can be contagious. Seeing a couple thousand metalheads sing along to every song — even the group’s hit ballad “Like A Stone” — is moving enough to make you forget almost any smell.

Audioslave’s brief club tour has been touted as a thank you for these rabid fans. And with a new album, “Out Of Exile,” due to drop next month, one would expect the band to use this tour to drum up interest for the new record and preview the new tunes. Instead, the group has delved into their past, mining their back catalog from their former lives in ’90s alt-metal giants, Soundgarden and Rage Against The Machine. This is something they strictly avoided until now.

Rumors are rife that the group’s new record is a more mellow collection than their debut (lead singer Chris Cornell was quoted as saying the new tunes are less riff-oriented than before), but if Thursday’s concert was any indication, the group isn’t going soft.

The band worked the crowd into a frenzy right from the start, launching into a brain-rattling “Set It Off.”
Perched on the stage monitors, Cornell howled the lyrics about some sort of biblical mass mobilization, which served to stir an already agitated crowd

What the band’s star attractions — Cornell and guitarist Tom Morello — lacked in onstage chemistry, they made up for in their ability to make you want to mosh. Cornell, dressed in a white wifebeater and wearing his hair in a spiky pompadour, functioned as the cheerleader that incited the audience — either with his piercing vocals or high-energy stage prowling. Similarly, the eternally-hatted Morello left many mouths open with his technical skill. (On this night, Morello’s baseball cap was emblazoned with the slogan “Unite” on it).

“I can’t believe how many mo****f***ers they put in here,” Cornell said between songs.

When Cornell suddenly left the stage, the cheers from many of the fans signaled that they knew what was coming next. They went wild when the three instrumentalists dove into an abridged version of the Rage classic “Bulls On Parade” (sans vocals). The music surged forward as bassist Tim Commerford plucked notes that boomed like they were coming from a carpet bombing run. Morello’s perfect recreation of his patented record-scratching solo was so impressive that even the crowd surfers were playing air DJ as they tried to stay afloat.

With the band still raising hard rock hell, Cornell returned to lead the band in another Rage cut, “Sleep Now In The Fire.” This was a critical test. The Rage guys would have no problem musically with any Soundgarden track, but many fans were justifiably concerned that Cornell would fail any attempt to imitate Rage MC Zack de la Rocha’s fire-and-brimstone rapping.

Cornell met the challenge bravely. Clutching the mic with both hands, he delivered each line with a punkish yelp that solidly contrasted with de la Rocha’s rapid-fire bark. To ease his burden, Cornell’s bandmates pulled back the musical furor during the verses. At the conclusion, Cornell struck a defiant Jesus Christ pose as if to offer any naysayers the chance to take their best shots at him.

The quartet held nothing back for their cover of Soundgarden’s “Outshined,” which was the show’s high point. The song was brutal. Morello and company created a groove that rumbled and roared like the sound of an enemy army invading as Cornell wailed and moaned like he was back on Lollapalooza’s main stage all over again.

Returning to the present, the group rolled out four new tracks. Three of four songs were faster, more hook-centered, and less crunching than their old material (the fourth was group’s new midtempo single “Be Yourself”). Morello’s guitar playing in particular was less angular than it had been before. “Your Time Has Come” zigzaged around a Peter Gunn-like guitar riff while Cornell sang low and menacingly. “Out Of Exile” was another uptempo cut, propelled by Commerford’s bass playing. It climaxed with Cornell shrieking and Morello pulling a melody of squeals out of his guitar. Another unidentified newbie had a slow, crawling rhythm and was clearly made in the mold of Black Sabbath. Morello let each open guitar chord resonate as Cornell crooned.

The audience was supportive during the new tunes, but it was easy to see their reticence when considering how they reacted to the old stuff. The band fed off the positive energy. Sometimes they reacted with a simple goofy grin. Other times, like during “Shadow Of The Sun,” Cornell got revved up and manically performed a ring-a-around-the-rosy with the mic stand.

For the encore, Cornell alone returned for acoustic guitar renderings of the Soundgarden nugget, “Black Hole Sun,” and “I Am The Highway,” from Audioslave’s debut. Cornell demonstrated that he’s as talented a musician as he is a frontman. But his guitar sounded like it was strung with rubber bands as it flimsily tried to compete against the wall of noise coming from a crowd ready to rawk.

When Cornell’s bandmates finally rejoined him, the foursome happily obliged, delivering a series of knockout blows. It was the Rage anthem “Killing In The Name” — sandwiched between “Light My Way” and show closer “Cochise” — that brought the rowdy audience members to near riot levels. Cornell again acquitted himself nicely on vocals, and had plenty of help from a crowd that knew every word.

Such devotion isn’t necessary for opening act, Jonny Polonsky, who is not worth coming early for. The Chicago-bred singer-guitarist force-fed the overly eager audience a mind-dulling sampling of lumbering guitar rock. Neither a fast-fingered instrumentalist nor an especially captivating performer, Polonsky did little to stop the hecklers from screaming out Morello’s name in between the songs.

Where Polonsky did show himself to be a class act was in the merchandising booth. While his T-shirts were selling for $15 a pop, Audioslave’s shirts were retailing for an unholy $30. Taking for granted that someone would actually want to walk around with such a horrible band name on their chest, there’s no excuse for gouging fans with ridiculous prices (especially for a group with outspoken leftist beliefs). If the shirts were union-made or processed out of recyclable material, that would be one thing. But considering how cheap T-shirts are to manufacture, the only rationale for this ripoff is to boost someone’s profit margin.

The fans didn’t seem to mind, such was their devotion.

Audioslave’s Remaining Tour Dates (Jonny Polonsky will be opening all dates):

  • Thursday, April 28, Boston
  • Friday, April 29, Philadelphia
  • Saturday, April 30, New York
  • Sunday, May 1, Washington, D.C.
  • Tuesday, May 3, Atlanta
  • Friday, May 6, Orlando, Fla.
  • Thursday, May 12, Seattle
  • Friday, May 13, Portland, Ore.
  • Sunday, May 15, Sacramento, Calif.
  • Monday, May 16, San Francisco
  • Tuesday, May 17, San Diego
  • Friday, May 20, Los Angeles

For More Info:

Note: David’s nationally syndicated music column, Soundbytes, appeared in the Entertainment section of all Internet Broadcasting websites. This column was originally published there.

©Copyright 2005 by David Hyland. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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