Many moons ago, when I were a lad, I saw AC/DC playing at Sheffield Polytechnic, with Bon Scott. Standing next to me in the audience that night was some guy togged out in the full Angus costume, schoolboy shorts and cap, the lot. As their set got going he made repeated calls for “MORE VOL-YOOM”. A few weeks later at a Scorpions gig at Sheffield City Hall, I saw the same guy crawling along the front of the stage in front of the PA stacks, while the support band was playing.
That lad would have been in his element watching Airbourne. In the enclosed confines of
the Liquid Rooms, with Marshall stacks filling the stage, they make a racket
akin to being in the middle of the D-Day landings. The rhythm section delivers a physical punch
to the gut that makes you feel the need for a bulletproof vest. And in the midst of all that, Airbourne are
huge, huge fun.
|Joel O'Keeffe has "a bit of a CHINWAG" with the audience|
It’s very easy to describe Airbourne as AC/DC juniors. The younger Aussies have the same way with a steamhammer guitar riff, a thunderous rhythm section, and screeching vocals. But they also inject a Motorhead-like frenzy into the mix, and a post-grunge sensibility that makes them more contemporary than their inspirations.
At the epicentre of this storm is lead guitarist and vocalist Joel O’Keeffe. If Bon Scott came across like a casually lascivious, leering black sheep of an uncle, then O’Keeffe seems like a wild-eyed, manic cousin cut from the same cloth. Wiry and bare-chested, his between songs patter features regular squawked encouragement to “get pissed on a Friday night, EDINBURGH”. And this audience, no shower of curious casuals, is well up for both that challenge and Airbourne’s set. To say the joint starts jumping is putting it mildly - down the front there is clearly what I believe the young people call a mosh pit going on.
There’s some simple but effective choreographed guitar bashing, and Justin Street on bass and David Roads on rhythm guitar make frequent sprinted excursions from one side of the stage to the other, while Street demonstrates degree-standard headbanging to further enliven proceedings.
Now, you might be asking about the music. Well hell, what do you think? Songs like ‘Girls In Black’, ‘No Way But The Hard Way’ and ‘Runnin’ Wild’ feature riffs as tight as a cork in a champagne bottle, while O’Keeffe effortlessly cranks out screaming solos in between working the crowd. It's rock’n’roll compressed to its core, a hurtling rollercoaster fuelled by adrenaline and beer.
But this is really all about the live experience, and the connection between the band and the crowd. O’Keeffe does the Angus tour around the crowd solo thing, on a roadie’s shoulders. He chucks cans of frothing beer to audience members, and – his party piece – smacks them off his head till they explode. He encourages chants of “here we, here we, here we fucking go” – though they don’t need much encouragement, having got there first anyway. Even his drummer brother Ryan gets in on the showmanship, kicking off the encores by hand-cranking an air raid siren.
Airbourne have been off my radar for a few years, since I saw them play the late, lamented Caley Picture House in Edinburgh back in 2010. But clearly they continue to be an electrifying live force, with a committed fan base. And they don’t half stand up for the liberating power of rock’n’roll.