A Cheers To Audioslave As They Perform Tonight For The First Time in 12 Years
Tonight, Audioslave performs for the first time in 12 years. Chris Cornell, Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk. The Rock n’ Roll powerhouse that took the world by storm in 2002, releasing three dynamic records over the course of five years. If ever there was a time for the group to reunite, it’s now, it’s today. Even if it’s just one song.
As part of a heavy-hitting lineup put together for this “Anti-Inaugural Ball,” Audioslave will join the likes of Jackson Browne, Vic Mensa, Jack Black, the Los Angeles Freedom Choir and hosts, Prophets of Rage in an effort to leverage a platform and have a voice.
“Come pull a sheet over my eyes. So I can sleep tonight”
For me, Audioslave opened a lot of doors. Both internally and externally.
“Can’t explain it, it was something to see. Can’t contain something so ever real.”
Audioslave was the first time I saw Chris Cornell live. March 3, 2003 at the old Avalon in Boston. I was in college; hungry, vulnerable and relied heavily on music to light my way. I was in awe of the Seattle music scene from the second I could conceptualize it. Cornell to me was the larger than life Seattle icon. He just seemed so full of grit and could craft lyrics that somehow touched upon every dusty corner in the room.
At the show, Cornell was last to walk down the old, narrow stairs that brought you onto the Avalon stage. Decked in a white tank top, cut blue shorts and army boots, I couldn’t believe after all this time, all these songs, here I was in the same room ready to share some music.
Although not a politically aimed band, Audioslave opened my eyes to the fact that music can be “your” voice. They represented speaking up, digging deep and being honest through music. As the band took their places on the Avalon stage, I vividly remember what happened next. Silence. There was no intro music, no striking a few chords or tapping a kick drum to test sound, it was a dark room with silence (aside from crowd roars, of course). Then, Morello takes two steps up, taps his pedal board and …burn that gasoline.
Of all the mesmerizing moments of that first show, there’s one that I’ve carried with me in a different compartment ever since. “I am the Highway.” After all this electricity, Cornell grabs an acoustic guitar, strikes the rhythmic A minor, wave-rolling intro and glides right into a half solo version of this beautiful song. Eyes closed, head tilted down, pouring every ounce of himself into it. The Avalon was always dark inside, regardless of the lighting setup. It paired perfectly here. There are a few concert “moments” that I will forever have etched in my memory as a keepsake and reminder of how powerful live music is; the image of lights shining and illuminating Stevie Wonder at Madison Square Garden when I was five-years-old, seeing Pearl Jam for the first time in 1996 and how to start the show, Eddie Vedder walked up to the mic and simply said “Good Evening,” and Audioslave’s “I am the Highway” with Cornell gracefully kicking it off that night in 2003. How a musician can switch gears from so much energy to being bold enough to sincerely show vulnerability with a ballad like this, threw chills up and down my spine. Oddly enough, that was the song that almost popped the microphone with intensity.
“I put millions of miles under my heels and still too close to you I feel.”
If you look closely at the liner notes of each Audioslave album you will notice the sentence — all sounds made by guitar, bass, drums and vocals. Audioslave. What a perfect name for a group of four storied musicians that created an original fire using only the eight hands between them.
Like the name Audioslave that so eloquently encapsulates the band’s music, the video for “Cochise” is one of the best introductions to a band of all time. It’s simple, completely honest and grabs every inch of emotion to what was taking place. Cornell stands alone atop a dark industrial building. Pacing. Eager. Down below, an army-looking pickup truck storms in with Morello, Commerford and Wilk sitting on the edge. They jump out, hit the elevator and Commerford takes an anxiety-laced deep breath (one of the best parts) as the elevator delivers them to an awaiting Cornell. Shot out of cannon, they arm themselves with instruments, take their positions and BOOM!
“Well I’ve been watching. Why you been coughing. I’ve been drinking life while you’ve been nauseous.” Hello world. Let us introduce ourselves via the song “Cochise.” Damn.
Out of Exile:
Audioslave’s collection of music offered straight-ahead, smack you in the mouth rock, but with a sensitive side. It’s some of Cornell’s most direct lyrics. The songs showed more of personal, story-telling Cornell, touching upon life experiences everyone could relate to. You were taken on this personal journey with him. Songs like “Doesn’t Remind Me,” from their middle record, Out of Exile, give you that — lace up your boots, grab your coat and let’s go take a walk and have a cleansing chat type of feel.
I had just started dating my now wife at the height of Audioslave. As we lived 400 miles apart for a good year, I would do as any 23-year-old reckless romantic would do — wrote to her by using song lyrics. The first I ever sent was Audioslave’s “Out of Exile.” “But the hours grew so empty and the ocean sent her waves. In the figure of a woman, she pulled me out to sea.” Four years later on our wedding day, “Out of Exile” randomly came on the radio in the limo on the way to the ceremony. It is still the only time I ever heard that song on basic radio.
“To be yourself is all that you can do.”
“When I’m 80 years old, I’m going to turn on an Audioslave record and feel good about it,” bassist Tim Commerford told me during an interview last year. “I think the first day Rick Rubin hit us up with Cornell, we were at his house and we all listened to ‘Slaves & Bulldozers’ and we discussed how Cornell could just do anything. Little did I know it was not really going to go in that direction. I see Audioslave as more classic rock, singer, chord progression type of music. Things like that, we never really did with Rage.” If you think about it, in theory, it just seemed to be a natural pairing. Three robust musicians joining forces with an unmistakably potent voice that’s an instrument unto itself — forming a new, lead by example sound.
Audioslave made things happen. By blending the machine that is Morello, Wilk and Commerford with Cornell who injected some of his most inspiring lyrics, you were faced with an alluring wrecking ball of sound and emotion. One way or another, you were going to get moved. Their music encouraged you to jump on the swinging chains as opposed to being in the line of fire. With efforts like being the first American rock band to officially play Cuba, they went out of their way to make a difference.
At live Audioslave shows, I saw people mosh, jump up and down, shed tears, lock arms, comfortably let down their red-dyed hair, embrace each other and hold one arm in the air with a gleaming first atop while the other arm is wrapped around the person next to them. I witnessed Shaun Morgan of Seether duet with Cornell on a unique acoustic rendition of “Fell on Black Days.” An experience he would later tell me fulfilled a lifelong dream. And finally, I saw four influential musicians come together for the right reasons — in an effort to create something new, challenge themselves and lead a rock-infused charge… their way.
Yesterday to Tomorrow:
“And unlike the times before. From yesterday comes tomorrow. When life comes alive the past moves aside. No regrets and no remorse”
“We all really get a long in an adult way. As you get older, you let go of things, you turn the page,” Commerford said. He also credits Cornell as being a driving force behind his motivation to launch his new hard-driving, punk-influenced band, Wakrat. “I really respect Chris more than ever right now. I went and saw him play at Disney Hall and it was so great. He came to my Wakrat show and was so supportive. After the show he talked to me for hours about it. He broke it down and told me how he loved what I was doing, it was so hard, but with a vulnerable side that I should embellish on. I took what he said to heart. It was a huge inspiration to what I am doing now. I love that guy. I think he’s an amazing musician. His voice is incredible. He understands his voice better than he ever has, not to mention how good of a guitar player he is. He’s just an incredible dude.” That was last thing Commerford said to me as we wrapped up our Audioslave conversation. I didn’t necessarily take it as one day they will be back together, but the sincerity in his voice really emphasized that these dudes genuinely care for each other and are massively proud of their accomplishments. I hung up feeling, if ever we needed Audioslave as a society, somehow, they would be there.
SET IT OFF
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Jeff Gorra / jeffgorra@gmail