AC/DC, The Subways, The Answer

Michael James Hall 26/06/2009

As mighty rock behemoths go, the 36-years young AC/DC take some beating - legendary for their one-dimensional anthems to sex and rock n' roll as much as their notoriously loud live show and dedication to old-school blues-driven rock, their reputation as the beloved grandparents of modern rock is unquestionable. Recent years have seen a multi-platinum selling new album (Black Ice - which this tour is ostensibly here to promote) along with a strange sort of rehabilitation among young hipster types who may not own an album but certainly own the iconic Back In Black logo t-shirt. There's little in the way of Shoreditch tomfoolery here tonight though as a crowd packed to the rafters with die-hards ranging in age from about ten to seventy (no joke!) pay tribute to the Aussie overlords of lascivious metal.

The evening opens with Belfast's The Answer. Unreconstructed '70s rock with nice big hooks and a singer seemingly dressed as David Coverdale circa the Deep Purple years, they are a decent enough bar band done a disservice by wavering sound levels and a relatively apathetic crowd. One would think they'd be a more entertaining prospect late on at a club, but seem out of their depth here.

The Subways are a last minute substitute for the re-formed Thin Lizzy and receive a proportionate response. Their Nirvana influenced power pop is not only weak and ineffectual but also almost laughably unsuitable for the occasion. Their vocalist insists on garnering cheap pops from the crowd throughout by saying the headline band's name, as if by implying some kinship the gathered masses may not despise them quite so much. It's embarrassing and it doesn't work.

So, to the main event.

A huge on-stage screen shows a manga-style animation of a Rock n' Roll Train (their most recent single). It's a train inhabited by avatars of band members Brian Johnson and the eternal devilish schoolboy Angus Young getting into various overtly sexual escapades with large-breasted, violent rock chicks. It's awesome. Then an enormous metal train crashes through the screen. On fire. With devil horns. It's more awesome.

AC/DC chug through tracks from their most recent release to a warm response but it's the unleashing of Back In Black early on in the set that sets the place afire. Deafeningly loud, perfectly nonsensical and with a riff straight from the Gods of Rock, it's still a vital, exhilarating proposition. As the seemingly ageless Johnson and Young take turns running the ramp that extends to the centre circle of Wembley they treat the masses to vicious, pounding takes on classics like TNT, Hell Ain't A Bad Place To Be and an extended take on The Jack that involves much breast-showing on the big screens from various shoulder-riding females and a climactic strip from Angus. All ridiculous, all extremely politically incorrect and all the better for it. The dynamite driving power of Thunderstruck is an early highlight along with the triumphal Hell's Bells (of course accompanied by an enormous on-stage AC/DC branded bell) and Shot Down In Flames - pure rock n roll songs with huge chant along choruses driven by Young's unbelievably nimble fretwork and Johnson's almost comically gravely growl. A vast inflatable Rosie straddling the smoking train accompanies a rousing Whole Lotta Rosie and the biggest cheers of the night come with the unleashing of You Shook Me All Night Long. These songs are guaranteed to bring a smile to the sourest of faces and for the 80,000 screaming along mindlessly to them it's clearly a wildly liberating experience.

The main body of the set climaxes with a jammed out version of Let There Be Rock that leads into Angus' extended solo (again no joke - we're talking twenty minutes!) that sees the night's most memorable and iconic 'stadium rock' moment. Young winds up elevated on a platform above the sound desk in the centre of the arena, soloing madly and passionately, duck walking and head banging with as much frenetic dedication as he did twenty years ago. With a solitary spotlight centred on his thrashing form and the whole crowd turned in to the spectacle he drops to the floor releasing hundreds of thousands of pieces of glinting silver tickertape. The lights go up and the stadium has become a giant snow globe. It's almost magical.

Now that's a show.

Encoring with Highway to Hell and closing up with For Those About to Rock - accompanied by the obligatory cannon fire - AC/DC have delivered a stunning musical and visual experience that may well be tacky, lacking in credibility and perhaps even just plain dumb, but it's an experience that reminds us of the pure power of rock music - it's sense of community, it's sense of awe and wonder, it's ability to purely entertain. AC/DC triumph tonight not because they are critically acclaimed, not because they are cool and definitely not because they are pushing any musical boundaries - they win because they're simply fucking brilliant.

Long may they rock.