AC/DC plus The Answer

Maybe there is something about this gig, but I thought this blog had already been posted on here…twice…clearly not.  But that is nothing compared to my journey to get to the gig in the first place.  It was on Thursday 16 April, so I was travelling down to London from work to get to The O2.  I thought I had a cunning plan – I would drive to Canning Town and then simply get the Jubilee line one stop to North Greenwich, which would save me a long wait at the end of the gig to get away from The O2 car parks.  It was easy enough getting to Canning Town, very easy finding a free parking space, and then the problems began, because the Jubilee line was down.  There is not a direct bus from Canning Town to North Greenwich, so I was partly retracing my steps to get to a bus stop at the mouth of the Blackwall Tunnel, but I was certainly not alone in having to do this.  One full bus passed us without stopping, then an empty bus which was ‘out of service’ (typical), and it got to the point that as the traffic was coming to a halt people were trying to flag down cars, or get in half-full taxis, just to get through the tunnel.  I was lucky enough myself to get into one of the half-full taxis, so thank you to the kind souls inside (fellow AC/DC fans) who called us over.

I was very excited about seeing The Answer for the first time live, because I have both of their excellent albums and I wanted to see how they would produce that sound on stage.  The travel delays were building my level of angry frustration at not being there, and the worry that I might miss their set, but as it turned out I managed to get to my seat just as they were bringing their opening number, Come Follow Me, to a close.  Thankfully, there did appear to be quite a few people in – I had been worried they may have been playing to an empty arena because of the rail problems – and they looked to have gone down well.  Vocalist Cormac Neeson says, “we’re a band called The Answer, we’re from Belfast, and our business with you tonight is to rock and roll” and they go into Walkin’ Mat from their new album, Everyday Demons.  A wonderful, crunchy guitar riff intro from Paul Mahon, a great rhythm being laid down by James Heatley on the drums and Michael Waters on bass, and the sound reminds me of lighter moments from Led Zeppelin, and then Cormac’s brilliant vocals come in.  There is such a good riff running through the track and it races along with a great melody.  Cormac’s smooth vocals flow out, and while for me he has the look of Robert Plant, his moves and sound are more reminiscent of Paul Rodgers, and he is every bit the classic rock frontman.  The track eases into a more mellow part, then the riff picks up again, the powerful vocals blast out, and a wailing guitar solo takes us into a big ending.  They continue with the new album, a repeating guitar lick taking us into Demon Eyes, anticipation building from the repetition, the vocals come in over the top of the guitar, the drums and bass join, and off we go, with the guitar lick continuing as the track races along.  It becomes more melodic while really rocking, driven on by the rhythm section, but also held tight by them, moving into a racing solo with a sustained end, leading us into a holding part with the drums bouncing around, before rocking off again to the close.

Cormac comes in again, “so far, so good, and it’s only going to get better because the next song begins with the best drummer in Belfast city, James Hetley” – and a special mention must go to James because he is playing this tour with a serious injury to his hand, which does not seem to be affecting his performance, but does mean he is unable to play more than the 30 minute support slot they have without being in too much pain.  It’s a big Led Zeppelin sound as the drums kick us into Never Too Late, from their critically acclaimed debut album, Rise, but do not think that the sound is dated, because it is anything but that – they have a fresh sound, while clearly playing from their influences, acknowledging their roots while producing a new and updated take on a classic sound.  This is a wonderfully intricate track, mixing up the rhythm but the drums very solid, with nice flourishes, and the guitar twists and turns and comes through in waves before heading into a wailing solo, intricate notes which occasionally soar, and the track is then really racing along with a big, heavy sound, leading into another guitar part, a wailing beginning, then a deeper sound before moving up and down the scales with an awesome blues sound, and the drums and bass kick us straight into Tonight, another from the new album, with an intricate guitar part still flowing through into this one before it goes nto a riff which reminds me of AC/DC, and they pull it off.  The track rolls along uptempo with a good melody and then goes into a high guitar solo, soaring then picking out the notes, sustaining them, holding them on the edge of feedback, before the track rolls off again.  They carry on with the new material with On And On, the cymbals tapping in with the guitar, a light feel to begin with, then the drums kick in and it becomes harder, deeper and races off.  There is a great riff going and a smooth flow to the track, as it moves into a subdued, melodic solo, then a big finish from the drums.  Cormac says it has “been our absolute pleasure to stand up on this stage and perform for you”, but I am convinced the pleasure has been at least as much ours.  They close their set with Under the Sky from their debut album, which he describes as “Northern Irish swamp music”, and so it is.  Rolling drums, rumbling bass, guitar riffing, Cormac on harmonica, the whole lot racing along with a brilliant sound, almost like a harder, heavier blues number from The Doors, then the guitar screams through and it really kicks the Roadhouse Blues feel into touch, then eases into the chorus before soaring, then really rumbling on, mean and dirty.  The guitar cuts through into a solo, wailing, screaming, a wonderful sound, then feedback as it goes into the vocals and the track rolls off again.  It rocks into a harder, slower part, forceful drums, powerful guitar sounds which are getting higher and higher, screaming out, then easing back down again, flowing, melodic, down through the scales.  The drums and bass thump through now, the track winding down with some big, chunky bass sounds, moving into a big finish, the vocals soar, then a sharp end.

It has been a brilliant set, great tracks, very well performed, lots of energy within the band, and it certainly appears that they have gone down very well with the audience.  I had previously been expecting to have seen them supporting Black Stone Cherry at the end of last year, before they were called on to this tour, and I cannot help feeling that not only would that have been a stunning matchup, but also that their days as a support slot must quickly be coming to an end.  The Answer are destined to be massive, and very soon – so get to see them in any smaller venues while you can, because it will not be long before they are back as the headline act in the larger venues.  And when I went out to get something to eat, I was passed by Saxon’s Biff Byford, so I hope he had got here in time to have enjoyed The Answer too.

So the stage was very nicely set for AC/DC, but if there was ever any doubt they could not respond in kind, it was dispelled in an instant.  The place was full of flashing devil horns in any event, but as soon as the animation came on to the big screen at the back of the stage you knew this would be something special.  Tracks on the screen, a full moon, the animation taking us down the tracks at speed, an engine with number 666 coming towards us, driven by a red cartoon Angus, and then it all gets a bit X-rated before the train crashes through the buffers, the band themselves come on to the stage, there is a big riff, explosions, they are bursting into Rock ‘n’ Roll Train and there is a life size solid locomotive engine on the stage – they certainly know how to lay on a spectacle !  There is a catwalk which reaches out into the standing area, and smaller screens to the side of the stage are showing close ups of what is happening on the stage.  And the band back it all up with the music, the sound coming across clear and smooth, Brian Johnson’s vocals sounding great as he comes down the catwalk, still in his flatcap, Angus Young’s guitar solo cutting through as he comes down the catwalk himself, yes, still in his schoolboy outfit, the rhythm section of Phil Rudd on drums, Cliff Williams on bass and Malcolm Young on rhythm guitar holding everything together, and this is a brilliant opener and it goes down very well.  And now there are also two bigger screens at the back of the stage.  Brian tells us they are going to do some mixing and matching tonight and a big riff (not sure they come much bigger) takes us into Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be, and this meaty chunk of rock bounces along, the drums and bass rumbling through, and Angus’ guitar wailing through a stunning solo.  But I put my hands up right now – riffs DO come bigger and three tracks into the set (yes, only three tracks in) they punch out Back In Black, solid, hard, tight, Brian’s vocals as raw as Angus’ riff, and the screens show us Angus’ guitar solo in detail, which is a joy to behold, before Phil’s drums really take us off and we rock until it gets back to being deep and hard to close.  The crowd erupt !  Brian tells us “this is where the mix and match shit comes in” and this is “something off the new album, this is called Big Jack”, and an uptempo start has us rolling along to the melodic riff, the strong vocals, but you can sense things have dropped a couple of notches (not surprising, given the two tracks which came before this one) and that the audience are almost catching their breath in anticipation of what might come next.  Angus comes centre stage for the excellent solo, and this track should not be underestimated because I believe it does stand up very well in the company of the classics, and a big finish takes us into sudden darkness on the stage.

Brian says they have “got a special song for London town.  This one is called Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” and there is green lighting on stage for the heavy opening, and then orange lighting flooding on to the black locomotive, giving it a bronze look, then white flickering lights for the opening of Angus’ solo.  And this has been a huge number, really getting the audience right back up again, Brian coming to the very end of the catwalk, great interaction with the audience, and Angus takes off his cap and throws it into the air as he throws out a sustained ending.  The crowd are chanting ‘Angus’ as we wait for the band to begin the next track, then there is another very familiar riff and the crowd cheer as the band launch into Shot Down In Flames, a wonderfully sharp, cutting sound, rocking along, a great beat from Phil, so tight from Malcolm and Cliff, and a brilliant solo from Angus as he works his way up and down the neck.  Short, sharp, epic, classic – what more could you want !  How about one of the few really good songs they wrote during that long period up to the recent release of Black Ice ?  Thunderstruck has that intricate guitar opening, melodic, fast, almost a classical feel, and then the power of the rhythm section as Phil’s drums kick through.  You could easily go through an AC/DC gig and not really notice the engine room behind their sound, as Phil, Cliff and Malcolm retain their low profile, but without their powerful and consistent input the AC/DC sound would not be there.  There are lightning bolts on the stage screens as the drums build up the track and finally we kick off with an intense sound.  Brian’s vocals are really forceful through this one, and it is a real joy to watch Angus rolling through the track, hitting into a wailing solo, before the track returns to its more melodic sound to take us through to the end.  Then we have the title track from the new album, Black Ice, the drums tapping us in, then a big guitar sound, joined by bigger drums and some thumping bass.  It is hard and heavy as it rumbles along, certainly has an edge to it, a very solid sound, and is straightforward with very little in the way of frills – and it stands up well with the other tracks in the set so far, bearing testament to the strength of the latest material.

There is an earthy blues guitar intro to take us into The Jack, and excellent bluesy vocals from Brian.  It is laid back, easy, swaying, and you can feel the quality of their sound seeping through every pore of the track, then screeching, crunching guitar taking us into a breathtaking solo with the stage bathed in red light, and for the female contingent in the audience the breathtaking part continues as Angus leaves his guitar behind and strips down out of his blazer and tie, then shirt, and finally drops his shorts to reveal his AC/DC boxers – and also during the course of the track they keep focusing in on women in the audience, although things have changed since I first started going to AC/DC concerts because not one of the women flashed !  Angus retrieves his guitar and goes into the most lovely blues sound, building it up and soaring, then the band are back in with him to take it to a close and the crowd erupts once more.  Brian makes his way down to the very end of the catwalk, and once he is there the bell descends.  He makes his run and jumps up on to the bellrope, and it really is the most tremendous theatre, being lapped up by all present.  And the Hells Bells riff bites in and sways, and then the drums kick in and we rock, and the riff is harder now as the vocals come in and it is another classic by any measure and the band really sound at the top of their game.  The track moves into the guitar solo and then it flies, screaming, and they show a close up on the screens as Angus brings it to an end, and it is awesome to watch.  Shoot To Thrill has another meaty guitar riff to start it off, and some outstanding rhythm guitar from Malcolm, and then it rocks off with such a bite.  There is such a high energy in the performance, making a mockery of the ages of the band members and the idea which had been touted around that they might not be up to this sort of show any more, and the track races along.  Spikey notes as the audience clap along, and from my position in the first tier I can look down on the sea of hands in the standing section – but let’s face it, if you can’t bang your head to this one, then you will never bang your head.  The track ends, the crowd erupts – it is no surprise.  They return to the Black Ice album for the next track, War Machine, with an epic animation projected on the big screen, depicting a WWII bomber with red horns, being flown by Angus and dropping guitars and the girls on parachutes, then a WWI tank, a giant robotic Angus, a pirate ship with AC/DC sails, and in the end the bomber drops the AC/DC bell on the pirate ship.  The track itself is not bad either !  A chunky sound, with a hard, deep, relentless beat, it is gently paced and rumbles along very well.  They follow it with Anything Goes, another track from the latest album.  An upbeat opening, bouncing along, got an almost Springsteen feel to it for me, certainly a commercial touch, lighter, the vocals coming in over the top, the guitar reaching for the higher notes, and the audience clapping along to the middle part.

A wailing guitar sound takes us into one of my all time favourite AC/DC tracks, You Shook Me All Night Long – and as well as being an excellent track, I always get to thinking of the brilliantly funny promo video.  Tonight it sounds spot on, the drums kick in and the beat takes us off as it flows so well.  Brian’s vocals are perfect – perfect for this type of track, and simply a perfect sound in this performance.  It rocks into a controlled, screeching solo before moving on into a massive, sustained ending.  And then they raise the tempo with TNT, the drums tapping in before the sound explodes, coming through in bursts, down and dirty, thick bass sounds from Cliff, the solo from Angus bites in and soars, flames burst around the train, the track runs frantically and races to an end.  There is a real energy surge at the moment, and the whole set has clearly been building to this point of the evening, as Brian introduces us to an old girlfriend and as Angus lays down the riff to Whole Lotta Rosie and the crowd chant back ‘Angus, Angus’, a giant Rosie inflates on top of the locomotive.  And if I thought they had exploded into TNT then it was still nothing compared to how they launch into this classic, and the sound is tight, powerful, fast, the solo is absolutely stunning, and it is the best track of the set.  It gets the huge applause it deserves.  How on earth can you follow that ?  Well, they follow it up with Let There Be Rock and, frankly, take us on to another level.  The drums blast through, the guitar riffs, the vocals come in, on the big screen they are showing photos of the band through the ages together with animated album covers and close ups of the artwork, and underpining all of this and driving us on is the outstanding rhythm being provided by Malcolm and Cliff.  Angus is already going to town with the theatre and loving it, putting his guitar on his head to play it.  He moves to the end of the catwalk, and it everybody was not entirely focused on him before, they are now as he rises into the air on a platform to continue with his solo, and we worship.  His image is shown on the stage screens, effects added to clone him into a stream of Angus playing his heart out, and now he is on his back spinning around, then on his knees, the guitar playing never stopping, not missing a note, an exceptional performance, and now he is up on the raised part behind the drums, playing an intricate part, taking the applause, playing some more, taking more applause, then shorter, more applause, shorter still, more applause, and now it is stacatto between his playing and the applause from the worshipping crowd.  Then he starts to build up the sound, slowly, gradually getting faster and faster until it is roaring at a frantic pace, then he turns and milks the applause and races off again, now just using his neck hand to play.  He runs back down on to the stage, goes on to his back and then is back up again for a massive, epic finish to the track from the whole band.  It has been an experience, it has now been the best track of the set, and it has brought a storming set to a close as they depart the stage.

There is a red AC/DC logo on the screen as we wait for the band’s return.  Then a riff breaks out from the darkness and we head down the Highway To Hell.  There is a red glow and dry ice on the floor in the middle of the stage, and suddenly Angus rises up from there, and fire engulfs the logo on the screen.  It is a powerful, hard-hitting version of the track, very sharp feel to it, and we also have Brian playing around with the vocals a bit towards the end.  And the final screen shows Angus face in the flames, and with his fingers he is making his horns.  A classic image. Of course, they close out with For Those About To Rock, the wonderful bouncy intro as cannons appear behind the drums, three on each side.  Malcolm’s rhythm guitar is exquisite, a joy to listen to, and Cliff’s bass is running very deep.  There is a hard edge to this powerful track, and the then solo cuts through and screams out as cannons on the stage screens and those behind the drums fire, and we rock, and the track let’s go and races, and Brian says, “we salute you, London”, but it is us saluting them for this pulsating performance, and Angus is still going, running from one side of the stage to the other, the cannons on the stage firing as he gets to their side, and then it moves into a massive finish with all cannons firing and it is a fitting close to an outstanding night.

If there was any doubt that AC/DC could still deliver then this performance dispelled that thought, and it also showed that the new material is capable of standing up with the classics – it also showed just how many classics they have under their belts !  Roll on Wembley Stadium on 26 June !

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