HAVANA – The American group Audioslave (search) broke decades-long barriers with a thundering concert before thousands of Cuban fans — who knocked over barriers to get closer to the first U.S. rock band to play an outdoor concert in Cuba (search).
Chris Cornell's (search) scream — "I won't do what you tell me!" — boomed off the high-rise apartment buildings on south side of the stage Friday night as feedback shrieks from Tom Morello's guitar drifted into the night breeze over the Caribbean to the north.
"This is the best thing that has happened here this year," said 25-year-old rock fan Omar Juanes.
"The best thing in your life," shouted a nearby friend who darted back into a crowd of more than 3,000 people — many with dreadlocks, body piercings and tattoos. A few swooped around the edges of the crowd on roller blades.
It was a distinct difference from the orderly, clean-cut crowds who march in massive anti-U.S. protests along the Malecon waterfront at the same venue: the Jose Marti Anti-Imperialist Tribunal before the U.S. Interests Section, or diplomatic mission.
Even before the concert, hundreds of fans were so eager that they sent metal security barricades clanging to the pavement and rushed forward to fill a 50-yard long area that had been reserved for special guests — mostly workers and teachers with exemplary official records.
Police allowed the fans to stay in the invaded space and several joked with tattooed youths in Metallica T-shirts swigging rum.
U.S. travel restrictions on Cuba and the Cuban government's ambivalence toward rock music have limited visits by U.S. rockers to Cuba.
Officials often cite Billy Joel's 1979 indoor performance as a rock and roll landmark here.
But elemental grunge, thrash and metal are the most popular styles of rock on an island rich in its own complex, polyrhythmic popular music.
Audioslave had the whole crowd screaming and dancing when it went back to its frantic, pounding, grungy roots, but left those in the back merely toe-tapping on some of the newer, less frantic songs.
"We would like to have stronger music — bands like Metallica," said a gaunt man sitting alongside friends on the Malecon seawall who gave his name as Walter Delgado, 32. Even so, he said, "We are happy for the first time in our rock and roll history."