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(26 Feb 2003: Riviera Theatre — Chicago)

Recipe: Live Audioslave

With 25% Soundgarden and 75% Rage Against the Machine, hard-rock saviors Audioslave arrived before a sold-out crowd at the Riviera Theatre with high expectations to meet. Speculation has centered on whether or not this “supergroup” is just a one-off affair—a rebound of sorts. Fans and critics alike speculated that once the infatuation phase of the relationship wore off, the four men would still harbor feelings for their former partners. Perhaps Zack de la Rocha and Kim Thayil were waiting in the wings, ready to rap and shred at a moment’s notice. Well, if the live output of Audioslave on 26 February 2003 is any indication, they can all go on with their lives. Audioslave is a real band.

At eight o’clock, an unassuming older woman walked to the center microphone. Had we all been fooled? Was Audioslave just a pseudonym for some granny-rocker? In actuality, the woman was Mary Morello, a Chicago native and mother to one Tom Morello, he of “Soul Power” guitar fame. In probably the most unexpected act of the evening, she humbly pronounced, “I’m here to introduce the best fucking band around! Audioslave!” The crowd roared as son Tom walked on and gave his creator a hug. The other three (Chris Cornell, Tim Commerford, and Brad Wilk) entered stage left and wasted no time mirroring the energy of the Audioslave logo (a flame) by diving into “Light My Way”. “Set It Off” and “Gasoline” became instant mosh soundtracks as the crowd gave credence to Cornell’s lyrical promise that “the sun will never set tonight.” The prepare-explode-retreat cadence of the music was the sound of bombs dropping on a predetermined schedule. Nowhere was this method better displayed than on “What You Are”, an unleaded anthem of self-determination. Fortifying this method were Commerford and Wilk, a smooth, able rhythm section that allowed the featured instruments of Cornell’s voice and Morello’s guitar to reach their stratosphere. And the lead instruments in question did not disappoint.

Cornell alternated between brooding monotone and primal scream at the drop of a hat, proving he’s still up to the task of fronting a loud rock band. If AC/DC’s Brian Johnson is Bruce Banner, Chris Cornell is the Incredible Hulk. He showed his excitement and (dare I say) rage throughout the show by mercilessly pounding the mic-stand into the ground and bellowing intensity beyond the balcony. If anyone had doubts about Cornell being on the same page as his fellow bandmates, Cornell put that worry to rest about midway through the set. After introducing each member he simply stated, “We’re a band called Audioslave and we’re gonna be a band called Audioslave for a long, long time.”

Like his bandmates, Tom Morello brought the goods. The stage is his lab and the guitar is his experiment, fingers mixing potions like Jimmy Page on steroids. His solos were often the best point of each individual song, creating new definitions for “inventive”. In his hands the guitar becomes a nameless mimic for everything from turntables to jet engines. Songs like “Shadow on the Sun” and “Like a Stone” lead him away from some of his more complacent work in Rage Against the Machine, where a heavy reliance on repetitive funk-rock was his Achilles heel.

The encore contained the most memorable segment of the concert. Cornell walked out alone, equipped with an acoustic guitar for the ballad “I Am the Highway”. After a show filled with consistent intensity, “Highway” was a welcome respite with its road trip croon and twang, a perfect fit for the role of “calm before the storm”. The storm of course, was “Cochise”. Revving up with Morello’s echoed tank intro, the anticipation grew as Wilk’s drumbeat to war signaled the countdown. As the band dove into the main riff, a giant peace sign revealed itself behind the wailing drummer. The juxtaposition of the dove-white symbol with the blood-red warpath of “Cochise” made a louder political statement than anything said with words.

All in all, the chorus of “I Am the Highway” was prophetic: “I am not your rolling wheels / I am the highway / I am not your autumn moon / I am the night.” This seems to be the mission statement of a band set on permanence, not a transitory replacement for the heights of the past.

Tim Slowikowski has been writing for PopMatters since the halcyon days of 2003. His favorite record that year was Outkast's Speakerboxx/The Love Below. A graduate of the University of Iowa, Tim has also written for Chicago Innerview and Kevin Smith's now-defunct (and unfortunately titled) Movie Poop Shoot. Tim studied at Chicago's famous haven for improv and sketch comedy, Second City, where he formed a comedy group and traveled across the country performing for the unwashed masses. Currently shopping a screenplay with the rest of America, Tim lives in Chicago with his wife Megan.

Tagged as: audioslave
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