There are two things I should point out before jumping head-first in to this review of AC/DC’s recent bash at Wembley Stadium: Firstly, I had never seen AC/DC before, so was justifiably excited by the prospect of correcting this. There have been opportunities to see them before, but, being something of a late convert, I’ve always passed up on them.
Despite having played Donnington three times (including the now seemingly bizarre third place billing, under Metallica and Pantera in 1991), our paths never crossed at the now sorely missed Monsters of Rock festival, and I’ve never felt inclined to see them at Wembley Arena or Hammersmith – primarily due to my own personal aversion to these venues.
Secondly, I’m not a big fan of Stadium gigs! I’d never been to the new Wembley Stadium before, but, having seen more than my fair share of gigs at the old place, I know what I’m talking about when I say the beer’s always flavoured with piss, the bogs are usually only mildly better, the sound is always atrocious, and it always takes so long to get home, you might as well just hang around for the next gig! Personally, I don’t mind huge gigs, but I would much rather be at Hyde Park, Milton Keynes or a decent festival, where the sound carries better and you can take your own beer.
That said, I can honestly say that AC/DC at Wembley Stadium 2009 was the best stadium gig I have ever been to!
Setting off from Reading at about 1.00 pm, I and several like-minded chums were already nicely ‘relaxed’ by the time we arrived at ‘Thirsty Eddie’s’, the last decent boozer before entering the stadium itself. It seemed as though the other 79,995 metal-heads in attendance had also decided on a last pint here before going in, as the queue at the bar was several deep and quite lairy already. It was good though to see several familiar faces, from gigs gone by, including one Johnny H, who was outside looking so ‘happy’ he was almost horizontal!
A couple of Guinness’s at Eddie’s was all we had time for before we had to join the mass of bodies making its way up the hill towards the stadium. We arrived in plenty of time to grab a couple of pints of piss, peruse the t-shirts and relieve ourselves before heading down to the field to catch The Answer. Whilst making use of the surprisingly clean and numerous facilities, our spirits were lifted further by the sound of Wolfsbane’s ‘Steel’ floating across the PA. We were in for an awesome evening of howling mad shitheadedness!
Grabbing a spot on the field nicely upfront (not difficult at this early hour), it was disappointing to note that the sound for The Answer’s set was predictably poor. It wasn’t helped by the fact that there was quite a breeze picking up at this point, but the one second echo wasn’t very friendly on the ears, and didn’t bode well for the rest of the evening. The Answer didn’t seem too bothered though, and played an absolutely faultless 30 minute set.
Having recently released what will surely become my album of the year, and never having let me down live before, you’re not gonna hear me say too much bad about The Answer. If I had to make one ‘observation’ though, it would be that they completely ignored their equally stunning debut album, but with songs as good as ‘Demon Eyes’, ‘Walkin’ Mat’, ‘Tonight’ and ‘Evil Man’, I’m not complaining!
With (the ghost of) Thin Lizzy having pulled out of the main support slot just a couple of days earlier, allegedly due to drummer Tommy Aldridge having injured himself and being unable to play (although the fact that singer / guitarist John Sykes quit the band a couple of days later raises questions regarding the legitimacy of this ‘excuse’), I took the end of The Answer’s set and The Subways’ arrival to be a convenient point to revisit the bar and merchandise stall. I’d sampled The Subways the night before on Myspazz, and their jingly-jangly, spangly-dangly, floppy-fringed brand of indie-rock shite was very definitely not for me! If you've never heard them before, then you're in good company, although I've seen them compared to Nirvana and The White Stripes if that helps. Not my idea of fun! How they got this gig, I can't even begin to imagine. Personally, I’d rather have my own testicles peeled, fried in salt, and washed down with a couple of pints of Wembley Stadium own-brand lager-beer than listen to such irksome toss! As it happened though, the testicle-peeler was on his lunch-break, so I had to make do with a couple of pints of warm, flat piss!
And then, with the summer sun beginning to fade, and the huge venue filling to capacity, it was show-time!
Somehow, I was lucky enough to get myself a small space down the front-centre – three rows from the front and about the same from the central catwalk that stretched out into the crowd. I say “small”… I mean tiny! Significantly smaller than me in fact! By the time the band hit the stage and was halfway though ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Train’ the crush at the front was approaching danger-level, and people were already being hoisted out by the security staff. Memories of Donnington ’88 were never far away, but both crowd and staff worked well at controlling things, with gaps spontaneously opening up the moment anyone fell down, and a helping hand was never far away for those that succumbed.
Even so, the heat was getting too much for me at this point, and I had to temporarily step back a few rows and wait for things to calm down, which they duly did, and I was soon back down the front like a man 20 years my junior! Being so close to the stage, and with issues of personal survival being foremost in my mind, the quality of the sound didn’t register with me at all. All I know is that it was very fucking loud indeed! And despite playing virtually the same set to that played every other night throughout the ‘Black Ice’ tour (like everyone else on planet rock, I’ve read the reviews and downloaded the live-boots), the band played every song as though it were the first night of the ‘Back in Black’ tour – almost 30 years ago! Angus’s leads were utterly faultless (even the 15 minute solo didn’t drag on too much), and Brian’s vocals were way better than they had any right to be, considering the man’s age (61) and the punishment he’s given his throat over the last 35+ years. Airbourne may well be the young upstarts, challenging AC/DC’s throne, but they’ve got a long way to go if they wanna be this good in 30 years time!
Classic (‘Dirty Deeds (Done Dirt Cheap)’) after classic (‘You Shook Me All Night Long’) followed one after the other, stretching from the current album (‘War Machine’ and ‘Anything Goes’) right back to the Bon Scott era (the awesome ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ – complete with inflatable fat bird!) and plenty in between. No surprises, just two solid hours of the best heavy rock ever written!