No rest for the wicked, another trip across the Pennines to Manchester for an evening of live music. The dust had barely settled on their headlining performance at Hard Rock Hell a few days earlier, but I was more than ready for another encounter with everyone’s favourite Aussies, Airbourne.
There’s something comfortingly familiar about Airbourne. They appeared on the UK scene in a big way a little over 5 years ago almost perfectly formed music- and image-wise. They decided from the off the sort of band they wanted to be and the sort of music they wanted to play and have very much stuck to that formula over the course of the next three albums. They embody a proper no messing about approach that has endeared them to a whole generation of metalheads. Hell they’ve even flirted with a mainstream acceptance, and chart success, that must be the envy of many of their peers.
Now usually by the end of a particularly high-voltage gig the place is a bit sweaty, but not with Airbourne… No with Airbourne the place is a bit sweaty after the first song. I have no idea how they manage to keep this up night after night, but they do, whipping the crowd into a frenzy of flailing hair and raised horns.
Airbourne fit snugly into the “they don’t do anything new, but they do what they do brilliantly” school of heavy metal. They do seem to be leaving behind the tired old comparisons to their homeland’s biggest musical export (no, not Rolf Harris) as a whole new generation of metalheads grow up with Black Dog Barking as much a part of the soundtrack to their lives as Back In Black was to their parents.
Tonight’s setlist was a crowd pleasing recap of Airbourne’s greatest hits so far. Things kicked off, appropriately enough, with Ready To Rock and from that moment on it the pace was relentless. Joel O’Keeffe is a truly great metal frontman who rarely puts a foot wrong, even when he ventured onto the shaky ground of winding the audience up about the Cricket. Anyone walking in at that point and hearing the band getting booed would have wondered what on earth was going on.
There are things you just know Joel is going to do during the set, and one of his trademark moves (other than throwing cans of beer into the crowd) is to go for a walkabout, well technically the big bloke that he’s sitting on the shoulders of is going walk about but you know what I mean….
The music never stops while Joel is on his travels though. He doesn’t seem to miss a note, while the band keep themselves busy on stage rocking the fuck out until he returns. Honestly, no one does up close and personal quite like Joel, always appearing approachable and friendly with no more rock-star arrogance than, well, your average Aussie.
But then, they’re not usually shy and retiring as a race…
The security folk in the Ritz are made to work hard for their money though, as crowdsurfers come over the top throughout the whole set. Credit to the crew thouugh, the miscreants are led out of the pit, shown a sign that says crowdsurfing is forbidden and they’ll be “asked to leave”, before being released and shoving their way back into the crowd…
Wonder what happens to repeat offenders?
After Joel’s return to the stage things ramp up a notch, No Way But The Hard Way (or, for tonight, No Way But The Manchester Way) threatens to blow the roof off the Ritz, but all too soon the last echoes of Stand Up For Rock’n’Roll are dying away and the band leave the stage.
Of course we’re not going to let them get off that easily, 10pm curfew or not. Encores are demanded and the band duly oblige, pumping the crowd back up to fever pitch with Live It Up and Raise The Flag before their “signature tune” Running Wild brings the evening’s proceedings to a close. No one, and I mean no one, does this with quite the enthusiasm, energy and sheer fun that Airbourne deliver. They’re one of those bands that will (hopefully) never change what they do, but will just keep on getting bigger and better.
I’m not quite sure what the good (and even the dodgy) people of Manchester made of the sweaty t-shirt wearing hordes that poured out of the venue into the cold winter air, but one thing that every one of us could testify to… THAT’S how you put on a Metal show.