If I’m a slave, I’m a slave to the rhythm

by Jennifer Schneider

All those pining for the authentic rock bands of your youth, take heart. Audioslave is neither Soundgarden nor Rage Against the Machine, nor does it strive to be, but when former Soundgarden front man Chris Cornell joined Rage’s Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk on stage at First Avenue on Sunday night, the resulting combination felt as natural as beer and cigarettes or peaches and cream.

The band sounded impressively tight despite the fact that Minneapolis was only the second stop on its first-ever tour, and the raw energy of the hopeful crowd was matched by that of the musicians. Cornell’s fervent wailing has always brought a sense of urgency to his music; when he sings something, you believe him. The opening number “Light My Way” (“A bullet is a man/From time to time it strays”) and the rakish “Set It Off” (“Everything is all right/All we need is some direction”) set the tone for the evening. Even the longest of tunnels have some light at the end.

Cornell’s powerful voice was rivaled only by the impassioned, rhythmic guitar work of Morello, who spun 360-degree turns while playing a Telecaster hand-painted with the words “Soul Power.” His guitar squealed on “Like a Stone,” screeched on “Hypnotize” and was reminiscent of tolling bells on the introspective “The Last Remaining Light.”

After frankly addressing a series of unpleasant topics, including suicide and mental illness, in “Exploder,” Cornell smiled and raised his mic high above the crowd. The audience responded by gleefully joining him in the closing “da’n’de-da-dah’s.” Another of the show’s highlights was a stirring performance of “Shadow on the Sun,” which showcased Cornell’s vocal abilities during the placid, melodic verses that fell between the rousing, vehement chorus.

The singer waited until the encore to pull out his acoustic guitar for the prettiest song of the evening, “I Am the Highway.” The band then quickly shifted gears, ending with an animated performance of the self-titled album’s first single, “Cochise,” which saw every single head in the place bouncing forcefully up and down to its furious beat.

Although Cornell referred to our beloved hometown as “the land of 10,000 hockey rinks” and “fucking freezing Minneapolis,” he made it clear the band was happy to be here instead of with all the “dead-looking people” at the Grammys.

Toward the end of the band’s set, Cornell made a succinct but telling declaration: “We’re called Audioslave. This is what we do, and we’re gonna be doing it for a long time to come.” Here’s hoping he’s right.

Jennifer Schneider welcomes comments at [email protected]