Airbourne in the Academy, Dublin, 22 October, 2013
Some musicians spend their time agonising over the human condition, probing into the nature of existence in an attempt to answer philosophical questions like “why are we here?” and “what does it all mean?” through song. And then there are the bands that just want to have a good time, play their music as loud and as hard as possible and generally fuck shit up. Airbourne fall into the second category.
The Auzzie rockers frequently draw comparisons to AC/DC and, with songs that seem exclusively devoted to the celebration of women, alcohol and rock’n’roll, it’s easy to see why. If it was all just an affectation Airbourne would fall flat within five minutes of taking the stage. But it’s not. Airbourne never leave you with even a second’s doubt of their devotion to a lifestyle of booze, chaos, and loud guitars.
The opening act could easily have been blown off the stage by what came after, but UK rockers Black Spiders managed to stoke the crowd’s excitement with their own version of pulsating hard-rock cut from the same cloth as Airbourne.
They leapt frantically about the stage, raised their middle fingers theatrically and prompted the crowd into a chat of “fuck you Black Spiders”. They shredded their way through a collection of riffs that moved from the breakneck speed of Motörhead to the slow, ominous crawl of Black Sabbath and back again.
Plenty of supporting acts at this kind of show end up playing their sets to a half empty venue that’s mostly indifferent and just want the main act to start. By the time the Black Spiders finished with Teenage Knife Gang they had what seemed like the entire Academy banging their heads and screaming their name.
It was a hell of an opening act, and when it was over the venue was shot through with chaotic anticipation for what was to come next.
The lights fell. Red spotlights began to scan the crowd, and from the speakers emerged the eerie theme from The Terminator. As the entrance music swelled to its percussive finale the band exploded onto the stage with a whirlwind drumroll and wail of guitar, bursting into mission statement Ready to Rock.
Frontman Joel O’Keefe tore through the lyrics with total lack of restraint. He threw his body around the stage, jumping down to fist bump the entire front row one moment and standing precariously atop an amp to play a solo the next. Things only got faster for the anthemic swell of Too Much, Too Young, Too Fast, and faster still for bawdy balled Girls in Black.
At this point even the stage wasn’t enough for Joel, who took to the shoulders of a fan and rode out into the middle of the pit. Surrounded by a sea of outstretched hands, the bare-chested, long-haired figure looked like a mythic hero after battle, his guitar upraised triumphantly like a battle axe.
The sheer explosive power of the first three songs suggested that the band would need to slow down for a breather as they approached the middle of their set. But Airbourne don’t do slow songs. Joel may have looked like he’d bitten off more than he could chew with his frantic antics – like a runner who sprints the first mile of a marathon – but Airbourne kept the energy levels turned up to 11 for the entire show. Pacing and restrained be damned; they went ahead and sprinted the rest of the marathon too.
When Joel chugged a bottle of Shiraz before playing Cheap Wine and Cheaper Women, it was obvious that Airbourne are the living embodiment of the reckless decadence at the heart of their music. They don’t just play their music hard and fast, they live that way too. And they kept powering through song after song, even finding time to play a breakdown that sounded suspiciously like the traditional Irish ballad Star of the County Down.
After the sonic barrage of Stand Up for Rock’n’Roll the band departed, and there didn’t seem like there could be anything left to top the previous hour or so of pure insane rock energy.
But after a suitable anticipation-building pause Airbourne returned to the stage to the sound of an air raid siren. Joel O’Keefe reappeared with a can of beer in his hand. He smashed the can repeatedly against his skull until the beer was spraying out in a fountain of suds, then tossed the can out into the audience. A crowdsurfer reached up and caught it, emptying the remains over his head as Airbourne blasted into Live it Up.
For the solo of Raise the Flag Joel climbed the lighting rig at the side of the stage, pulling himself up to the balcony area, where he fell to his knees and played to a member of the audience in a wheelchair. Then he was away again, running around to the far side of the balcony, dangling dangerously over the railing to play another solo, before disappearing through a door and appearing seconds later back down on the stage, drenched in sweat but unwilling to stop.
The band catapulted into one final hurrah with Running Wild, and when they ran out of their own power chords to play they powered through a medley of riffs which included everything from Sabbath’s Paranoid to AC/DC’s TNT.
The only problem with an Airbourne show is that it makes just about every other act out there seem like they aren’t even trying. Airbourne inject a pure, reckless euphoria into every second of their shows. It is only natural to go as wild as possible, to want to bang your head the hardest and scream the loudest.
When it’s over its hard not to think that maybe you should just be like Joel and be a little more carefree and a lot more enthusiastic about anything and everything. Maybe there is a philosophical message in all those songs about loving life in the fast lane after all.
Airbourne Photo Gallery
Photos: Alessio Michelini