Airbourne

Australian pub rockers aren't ashamed to admit it - they're old school rock, like it or not

It’s an interesting time for Airbourne. Just when the Australian pub rockers thought they had the market in no-frills party metal cornered, AC/DC return with their first album in eight years and a sold-out arena tour. 

It could be genius timing or the worst in the world, but one fact remains: Runnin’ Wild, Airbourne’s breakthrough 2007 release, is a far better AC/DC record than Black Ice. It swings, it swaggers and it’s the perfect primer for a night on the tiles in Belfast.

The Mandela Hall is already teeming with testosterone when the Stone Gods take to the stage. The support band features two ex-members of the Darkness – bassist-turned-frontman Richie Edwards and lead guitarist Dan Hawkins – together with former Bush drummer Robin Goodridge and bass player Toby MacFarlaine, last seen with Graham Coxon. They’re a motley bunch but cocky and entertaining.

Edwards leads the charge with a white Explorer guitar and a rebel yell, while Hawkins peels out solos from behind a mop of curls. The number ones and million-quid paydays of the Darkness may be long behind them but the Gods’ melodic metal attack is an ideal warm-up for the main act – and the queue to buy CDs after the show suggests a bright future.

It’s been a mere five months since Airbourne’s PA-blowing Belfast debut at the Limelight, but the 900 reprobates gathered here tonight – mostly male, mostly the wrong side of 30 – are ready for more. 

Whipcrack-tight after a summer of cross-continent festival action, the Melbourne-based four-piece bring the hammer down on 75 minutes of high-voltage rock ‘n’ roll. The set is almost identical to June – but harder, faster and ear-splittingly louder.

Strutting onstage to an intro tape of his heroes Rose Tattoo – who, in a curious case of role reversal, actually opened for Airbourne at this summer’s Download festival – singer and lead guitarist Joel O’Keeffe is a blur of demented energy from the get-go, squealing stupid-clever song intros (‘This one’s for all the girls in black – it’s called 'Girls in Black’') and scaling the lighting rig for a charge across the balcony.

On either side, rhythm guitarist David Roads and bassist Justin Street headbang in unison, while the frontman’s brother, Ryan, batters his kit with such ferocity that it should sue for assault. 

The quartet roar through a series of songs that are greeted like old, drunken mates. 'Stand Up for Rock ‘n’ Roll' is brash and intense. 'Diamond in the Rough' is sleazy and anthemic. 'Cheap Wine & Cheaper Women' is thumping and gruff. It’s an invigorating performance from start to finish.

‘As long as we are still alive and as long as you are all still alive rock ‘n’ roll will never ever die!’ screeches the wild-eyed O’Keeffe in closing. He’s a living cartoon – but on this freezing cold November evening, with a crushing hangover and another week at work awaiting the half-deaf, sweat-drenched audience, his unhinged patter makes strange, beautiful sense.

Andrew Johnston

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