Hallelujah!!! The rain had disappeared and the climax of the inaugural weekend of the Download Festival was upon us. Audioslave‘s second UK appearance was a festival headline appearance in front of 50,000 people. Not bad, but expected at the very least, owing to the reputations of its members who had been at the forefront of some of the ’90’s most groundbreaking outfits – Rage Against the Machine, Soundgarden and Temple of the Dog.
After a horrendous wait, Audioslave slid into the spotlight to a hero’s banquet. The crowd was fired up and Chris Cornell swaggered onstage, arms raised ready to conquer. “Are we all clean now or are we all dirty?!” he deadpanned.
The rain shorted the PA noticeably during the soundcheck and was once again tame as Gasoline kicked the set off, muting the hard-hitting impact of Audioslave from the word go. A shame especially if you weren’t at the front.
Despite not having much material to show for, Audioslave drew from their presence and delivery as much as they did from their musical aptitude, regardless of the inconsistent PA. Mr Cornell, as the tanned and toned frontman instructed us to address him, appeared very much rejuvenated. He wandered the stage with his raspy harnessed vocals, gripping and contorting with his mic stand and flailing in true Robert Plant fashion.
For those old enough to recall the nineties grunge heyday, it was wonderful nostalgia seeing Cornell at centre stage again. It truly was refreshing to see Cornell, undoubtedly the cream of his generation, sing. Having been bombarded with hardcore and cumbersome nu-metal, the vintage Cornell yawl delightfully enroached and tingled the cool, moist night air.
The set drew largely on their eponymously titled album. Each and every song sung word for word by appreciative fans. Like a Stone had thousands following Cornell’s lead, an awesome moment of captivating stadium rock. A Led Zepellin-esque b-side was chucked into the mix, along with a surprising rendition of the Clash‘s White Riot, in tribute to the late Joe Strummer.
Tom Morello just edged himself above Metallica‘s James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett for Guitarist of the Weekend – his inexplicable versatility in the effects and solo department giving him the nod over the latter two.
It was left to a storming finale of Show Me How to Live and the gargantuan Cochise (by which time the PA thankfully had improved) to close a solid weekend of heavy rock. A sketchy bill of big hitters and mediocre middlegrounders, Audioslave encapsulated the command, presence and magical performance needed to lay claim to the title of Headliners.
As the band departed, the stage lights died down and close music hummed in the dank air. Thousands of nameless faces slowly ebbed to and fro to the exits, not one thinking about Limp Bizkit. Audioslave were the perfect end to a pretty good but far from perfect festival.