Audioslave To Make History By Playing Free Show In Cuba

Cornell and company to perform historic gig in Havana on Friday.

Audioslave must be mighty proud of their forthcoming sophomore disc, Out of Exile. Not only will they be shutting down a portion of one of Los Angeles’ most famous thoroughfares — Hollywood Boulevard — to perform some of the new material for a free concert, they’ll be making rock history this weekend in Havana, Cuba.

Audioslave will become the first American rock group to perform a free outdoor concert in the communist country on Friday night. Chris Cornell and the rest of the band boarded a plane in Miami Wednesday afternoon (May 4), bound for Cuba. Friday night’s performance will unfold at the La Tribuna in Havana, and at least 50,000 fans are expected to attend.

The trip, which was authorized by the United States Treasury Department, is something of an educational exchange about music. To that end, the band will be interacting with Cuban musicians and youths as it tours several historic sites in and around Havana on Thursday. A camera crew will catch the band’s entire set on Friday, and the footage will later be transformed into a live DVD.

“Kids are the same all over the world, and we are extremely proud and excited to bring rock and roll to the youth of Cuba,” the band said in a statement. “It’s all about the music, and free expression of music crosses all barriers. This is a rare opportunity, and we are grateful and honored to have the support of both countries.”

MTV News’ John Norris is currently en route to Cuba with Audioslave and will be with them as they take the stage for this landmark concert event. Look for a full report on the group’s visit to Cuba next week.

In the meantime, MTV News caught up with Audioslave this past weekend in New York, before their performance at New York’s Roseland Ballroom. While the band was mum about its Cuba plans, Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello did say he’s looking forward to the band’s May 18 performance on Hollywood Boulevard.

A portion of that gig will be taped to air during “Jimmy Kimmel Live” that same evening. Hollywood Boulevard will be closed off to traffic of the vehicular variety to make way for thousands of the pedestrian kind. The show’s producers will erect a huge stage along the boulevard, upon which the band will perform an entire set, free of charge, for its Los Angeles area fans.

Morello said it’s going to be one of the most satisfying gigs he’s ever played.

“First of all, it’s a free show for our fans in Los Angeles, so we expect a lot of people to show up,” he explained. “And for me, it’s particularly richly satisfying because when I first moved to L.A., I tried to get a retail job on Hollywood Boulevard. [I] walked up and down [the street], and they wouldn’t hire me in any of those stores. So it’s going to be really nice that they’re shutting down the street for Audioslave to rattle all the windows. I went to all those heavy-metal shops and I was deemed unqualified to sell leather wristbands. We’ll show them.”

Revenge aside, the live show’s serving a much larger purpose: to remind fans the band has new material on the way (see “Audioslave’s Morello Says New LP Feels Less Like Soundgarden + Rage” ). Out of Exile won’t hit stores until May 24, so Audioslave also staged a spring warm-up tour that began April 14 and lasts through May 20.

By the same token, the band’s been reminding fans about its roots. For the first time in Audioslave’s brief history, the bandmembers — Morello, bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk, formerly of Rage Against the Machine; and ex-Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell — have been dipping into their respective pasts, infusing material from both bands’ archives (“Killing in the Name,” “Sleep Now in the Fire,” “Spoonman” and “Outshined”) into its powerful set (see “Audioslave Performing Rage, Soundgarden Material At Shows” ).

“What we were trying to establish [when we toured behind our debut album] was that we were independent,” Morello explained. “We didn’t want to use our pasts as a crutch. We wanted to establish Audioslave, artistically, as its own thing, as its own independent entity. And we did that. We’ve made a record that we’re tremendously proud of, that we think stands alongside our best work.

“Having done that, our histories and our previous bands are important parts of who we are, our lives and what makes us the musicians we are today. And they’re songs we’re very, very proud of. We’re in an incredibly fortunate position to be able to own those histories, and there are very few bands that can, on any given day, walk out on the stage and draw from 10, 11 multiplatinum albums of material to rock their fans’ asses with. But we’re one of those bands.”

For Cornell, tackling the Rage material wasn’t as difficult as he’d thought it would be.

“My approach was sort of thinking of certain songs I did in Soundgarden years ago where it wasn’t particularly melodies, but more like rhythmic shouting,” he said. “So that wasn’t really that tough. For me, the hardest part of it was not going completely ballistic. You kind of have to conserve your craziness for certain parts of the song, or otherwise, you’re going to end up collapsing.

“I think [playing these songs] draws us closer as a band. Because when we’re onstage doing songs that I may have written 12 years ago, they’re suddenly included in a big part of my past. And then, when we start to do a Rage song, and the audience goes wild, they know every single word, they’re jumping up and down, they know every single part. Suddenly, I’m a part of their pasts. And that was something I hadn’t really thought about or expected.”

And then there’s bassist Commerford, who’s managed to find some brutal amusement in playing the old material.

“You know what’s cool too is when you walk out onstage … usually there’s some women in the front row that are excited about Audioslave, and they’re there for the majority of the show,” Commerford said, “until we get to some of the Rage songs, and then they just get beat the hell out [of]. And it’s exciting, and they get replaced by sweaty dudes. It’s kind of cool to have both there.”

For more on Audioslave, check out the feature “Beyond The Sum Of Their Parts.”