AC/DC, The Answer

It's all a bit Spinal Tap, but what did you expect?

A lot of people in Ireland have been waiting a long time for AC/DC. In bars across Dublin, the talk is of classic gigs at the Point in 1996, the King’s Hall in '91 and the Ulster Hall in ’79, when the band still featured the late, lamented Bon Scott.

Tonight’s show at the 14,500-capacity O2 sold out in two minutes, with tickets snapped up by both ardent fans and a new generation of eager metal-heads. It’s a far cry from the mid '90s, when a Belfast concert had to be cancelled due to lack of interest.

The atmosphere in the O2 is electric even before openers The Answer have strutted their stuff. The Downpatrick four-piece make all the right moves during their punchy half-hour set. They’ve had five months touring with the headliners in North America and Europe to perfect their shtick, and the musicians who stride onstage in Dublin are far removed from the fledging rockers who once stalked Ulster’s pub circuit.

Frontman Cormac Neeson is all hair and flares, while guitarist Paul Mahon wrenches arena-sized riffs from his Les Paul guitar. Songs from new album Everyday Demons sit well with old favourites from the Rise record, and the group manage to nail a powerful sound in the cavernous venue. Just two days after this show, drummer James Heatley would be laid low by tendon and ligament damage to his hand, forcing the band to postpone a Mandela Hall gig. If he’s suffering tonight, he hides it well.

The Answer may still lack that one truly great song that will push them over the edge in terms of commercial success, but as a support band to the gods they more than prove their worth. Any bunch of County Down 20-somethings that can rouse the devil horns from an AC/DC audience – a crowd not known for its patience with warm-up acts; just ask King’s X or the Wildhearts – is surely on the right track.

AC/DC make their entrance beneath a shuddering, life-size locomotive train. ‘There’s something special about Dublin,’ shrieks lead singer Brian Johnson after a foot-stomping rendition of latest single 'Rock n Roll Train'. Four more songs from current album Black Ice might be a bit much – 'War Machine' and the title track could have made way for 'Who Made Who', perhaps, or anything off Powerage – but it’s a minor complaint. All around, people head-bang and air-guitar like mad.

There are some moments - like when a giant metal bell descends from the rafters for 'Hells Bells', or when 54-year-old, school uniform-clad lead guitarist Angus Young rises from a flaming trap-door for 'Highway to Hell' - that make it all seem a bit Spinal Tap. But then you realise that actually, no, Spinal Tap is a bit AC/DC, and this is precisely the kind of spectacle that arenas – and rock ‘n’ roll – were invented for.

AC/DC and The Answer play Punchestown Racecourse near Naas, County Kildare, on June 28. The Answer play a headline show at the Mandela Hall, Belfast, on June 29.

Andrew Johnston

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