HAVANA — With an inspired 26-song set, Audioslave made history on Friday, playing by far the biggest show for an American band in this communist country.
An estimated 50,000 fans at the sprawling La Tribuna Antimperialista José Martí watched as the band made one of its longtime dreams come true (see "Audioslave To Make History By Playing Free Show In Cuba"). Many of the fans were wearing T-shirts of Audioslave and other American rock bands.
Heavy on music and light on banter, the nearly two-and-a-half-hour set included several Rage Against the Machine and Soundgarden songs alongside Audioslave favorites and tracks from the band's forthcoming second LP, Out of Exile. The group also played a "jam?" (as it was called on the setlist) with the local opening act, singer X Alfonso.
While the crowd chanted "Aud-o-slave!" (their accents didn't favor the "i," so it became a three-syllable word), the band took the stage at 10:14 p.m., setting off its performance with the fittingly titled "Set It Off."
A mosh pit quickly formed near the front of the crowd, with Cuban military and security forces using their bodies to reinforce the barricade at the front and keep it from buckling.
Fans waved Cuban, Argentine, Venezuelan, Chilean and Canadian flags — and even an American one — as Audioslave rocked on, garnering an especially ecstatic response for the set's fourth song, "Like a Stone."
As guitarist Tom Morello — sporting a vest, tie, jeans with holes in the knees and his signature baseball cap — worked his guitar like a masseur would a high-paying client, his mother Mary, in an Audioslave T-shirt, watched from the side of the stage. At one point, she blew her son a kiss and he responded by flashing her the "OK" sign.
Click for photos from Audioslave's performance in Havana
Midway through the show, Morello, speaking in Spanish, took the mic. "It's a great honor for Audioslave to be the first American rock band to play in Cuba," he said. "Thanks for the warm welcome. We are happy to be here. This is all the Spanish I know."
He then dedicated the next song, a blistering instrumental rendition of Rage's "Bulls on Parade," to Cuba.
As the band seamlessly segued into the Rage favorite "Sleep Now in the Fire," singer Chris Cornell re-emerged to rap the tune while the crowd was jumping up and down in unison. Bassist Tim Commerford, in a red jersey-like shirt that said "Cuba," flashed a rare grin.
After a short acoustic set from Cornell, Audioslave were joined by X Alfonso (pronounced "Eckies Alfonso"), who pounded the large hand-drum hanging from his neck as he flailed his dreadlocks. By the end of "jam?", Cornell was playing the hand-drum and Alfonso was singing in Spanish.
As the show reached its end, the band pulled out the Rage classic "Killing in the Name," easily the crowd's favorite of the night. When Cornell turned the mic to the crowd, the fans screamed back at the top of their lungs, "F--- you/ I won't do what you tell me."
After a show-closing "Cochise," Morello told the crowd, "We hope we come back very soon."
Earlier in the day, about 100 kids gathered to watch the band soundcheck at La Tribuna (named after 19th-century Cuban revolutionary José Martí), which is near the sea and bordered by the main highway of Cuba, several dilapidated high-rises and a few anti-U.S. billboards.
As a special treat for the early arrivers, Cornell performed a cover of the Beatles' "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away." He later said he thinks it's bad luck to soundcheck with a song that is performed during the set, and apparently his superstition served him well: The historic show went off without a hitch.
For more about Audioslave's visit to Cuba, see "Audioslave's Havana Affair: John Norris Reports From Cuba."