Australian hard rock band Airbourne came to Manchester Academy to perform the very last leg of their 18-month tour before heading back down under. The most “Dad-rock” band imaginable drew the most Dad-rock crowd: denim, double denim, and denim again. If you weren’t wearing a band t-shirt so black it sucked in all the light surrounding it, you were out of place.Photo: Jack Greeney
Right from the start, Airbourne was an absolute assault on the senses: stage lights brighter than Einstein, decibel limits and eardrums alike shredded to pieces. If the band were feeling any effects from a year and a half on the road they certainly didn’t show them. Silhouetted on stage, the scraggy, bobbing messes of post-shoulder length hair whipped around, and amps were thoroughly jumped on.
Lead singer and chief shirtless guitarist Joel O’Keeffe, in particular, was an absolute riot. During one particular outrageous solo, he was picked up and ferried around the onrushing crowd on shoulders, smashing open beer cans, soaking and blinding anyone within a thirty-mile radius.
The stagecraft was intoxicating: often literally so. Cups of beer were thrown into crowd-members on shoulders (utterly fulfilling when the last cup was finally caught); and before ‘It’s All for Rock and Roll’, a tribute the late Lemmy of Motörhead (a longtime friend of the band who also appeared in their music video for ‘Runnin’ Wild’), an actual bar was pulled up on stage, to pour out litres of whisky as a toast.Photo: Jack Greeney
You get the feeling O’Keeffe could riff up and down on that simple pentatonic scale forever without it growing old, a few blues notes thrown in for good measure. His shout-singing too was right on the mark, a vocal technique I can only imagine is honed by drinking a cup of broken glass before the show than walking about barefoot on lego around the stage. It was not a performance that could be described as ‘tight’, but this was in no way to its detriment: when the whole ethos of the band is “wild and free” it can surely only add to the emanation.
Almost every song was extended to twice its length to accommodate various vigorous instrumentals: other than ‘Too Much Too Young Too Fast’, which was gone, rather too fast. Otherwise, the tried and tested ACDC formula of grooving basslines overpowered by pounding, open guitar chords never grew dull: and the ridiculous, instrument mashing finales to each and every song remained truly convincing right to the curfew. Airbourne, and this whole of this genre of hard rock and roll are just brilliant at giving you exactly what you want. You don’t want the song to end, but just as you think it will, that surely it must, the outro will go on forever and ever and then launch into another chorus, louder than all the rest of them. It’s visceral.Photo: Jack Greeney
Closing the show, O’Keeffe shouted in a thick Aussie drawl that as long as they’re still alive and playing, rock and roll will never die. This rip-roaring show left the impression that, in that case, they might never stop. After all, there’s always room for another guitar solo. And another chorus. And another guitar solo.