Live review

Astoria, London : 17.1.2003

London’s skies were clear, cold and bright, with a perfect full moon. On the streets outside the Astoria, touts were waving £100 wads of cash under punters’ noses. I didn’t see a single taker.
    This was An Event. Sold out on word-of-mouth publicity within hours of going on sale, tickets for the 2000-capacity show were scarcer than hen’s teeth. The VIP enclosure was heaving with industry types and rock royalty, and everyone in that hall was aching to see just how well this supergroup recipe had gelled.

Audioslave swiftly made it plain that what many had called a marriage of convenience had coalesced into a real live band. “These are my friends,” declared Cornell, and the affable onstage vibe betrayed nothing but co-operation and cohesion. Tom Morello delivered some desperately gorgeous solos, sometimes staccato and FX-laden, sometimes smooth, bluesy, ecstatic. Brad Wilk underpinned the sound as Timmy Commerford, looking like a woad-covered extra from Braveheart, thrummed bass chords and pulled out prowling melodic lines.
    And any doubts about Chris Cornell’s continuing ability to cut it live were dispelled within seconds. He may have had shaky moments as the band went through teething troubles, he may have spent time in rehab this year – that’s his business. What we witnessed in London on Friday was power, dignity, grace, and an incredible voice. There were feral screams, sensual blues inflections, death-defying slides up into falsetto; delicately acted subtlety on songs like the bitter What You Are or Like A Stone; even a new song which brought him close – but not too close – to Rage Against The Machine-style rapping. Final encore Shadow On The Sun was as viciously intense as anything of Soundgarden’s, and as it ended he visibly shuddered like someone trying to earth an electric charge.
    There was humour, too – pausing to shake the outstretched hands of the seething crowd beneath him, Cornell suddenly fished in his pocket and pulled out some cash. “Thanks - here’s a tenner,” he grinned, pressing it into someone’s palm. “Gotta look after our fans.” It’s got to be the only show this year offering cashback.

These small European shows were probably intended as warm-ups, and there’s room for a little fine-tuning before the tour proper starts in the US in February. The sound mix was bottom-heavy, the lightshow a touch overpowering, and the slower songs can drag a little, underlining producer Rick Rubin’s reported advice to the band: “You gotta learn to come soft.” But these are only minor flaws.
    Detractors will insist that Audioslave are nothing new; that the originality of both Soundgarden and Rage Against The Machine have been lost under recycled Zeppelin riffs and rockist posturing. They’re wrong. Audioslave are taking the best from their combined heritage and forcing it into new forms which embrace both Rage Against The Machine’s angry positivity and Cornell’s emotional depths as both singer and writer.
    On the basis of tonight, they have all the creative energy they need to make it work.

:: Clare O'Brien

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