Saturday 4th June 2016
Olympic Park, London
AC/DC became the first band to perform a major concert at The Olympic Stadium at London's Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. The concert, was the first major event in the stadium after the transformation works were completed. The stadium had been undergoing work since 2013 to turn it into a year-round, multi-use venue. The work included installing the largest roof of its kind in the world, a community track, innovative retractable seating, spectator and hospitality facilities and external landscaping. I looked around with one thought when us WRC members got there after a few beers in Waterloo and a bar in Westfield Stratford..... The Olympic Stadium really is rather huge and when the pre concert tape began to roll, the place was only 2/3rds full.
This was a spectacular show which featured pyrotechnics, flames, fireworks and giant cannons. The veteran rockers, who are currently being fronted by Guns N' Roses' Axl Rose in the absence of singer Brian Johnson, powered through a mammoth two hour and 10 minute set packed with hits from their back catalogue. Announcing his entrance ahead of 'Hell Ain't A Bad Place To Be', Rose joked about the recent bad weather: “They told me it's cold. It's not fucking cold, it's actually kind of nice. It's a nice place to be.” The singer was no longer consigned to his throne which he had borrowed from Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl, after recently breaking a bone in his foot during a surprise Guns N' Roses club show in Los Angeles. Instead he wore a special boot which allowed him to move around freely and he was lively enough throughout.
Rose seemed to be in a suprisingly jovial mood, turning up eight minutes early in fact, was looking rather healthy and although not saying a lot, cracked some jokes throughout the set at one point advising the crowd ahead of 'Rock 'N' Roll Train': “You having a good time? You on the party train? Don't get hit by the party train. I've been hit by the party train and it's fucked up." For me though it wasn't all about Axl and his air raid siren vocals.. After all, as the internet had promised and despite many London fans asking for refunds when news broke in April that he would be deputising, he did in fact sound quite a lot like Brian Johnson, confidently managing to pull off big-hitters early on like 'Shoot to Thrill', 'Back in Black' and 'Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap'. It seemed to me that he understood he wasn't the star of the show. Has he finally matured ? Not sure on that one.. Anyway I felt all the real stagecraft was provided by the consistently brilliant lead guitarist Angus Young who is the heartbeat of AC/DC, and the only survivor of the band formed with his brother Malcolm in 1973. It's ridiculous how much energy that guy has got... And as for playing a guitar-solo-with a tie that is just plain silly.... He is a joy, and if it sounds slightly uncomfortable to say that watching a sixty one year old man cavorting around in a schoolboy uniform playing guitar is something everyone should witness, nevertheless it’s a fact.
'Rock and Roll Damnation' was a welcome Powerage-era addition to the set list. 'Thunderstruck' got a particularly strong response from the crowd, 'Hells Bells' led to the first of the famous props to show, 'If You Want Blood…' was a fine reminder of the power of the band at full tilt and once the sun went down, the rapport between the remodelled band and audience really did start to come together. The whole stadium now was lit up by fans wearing flashing devil's horns, and when Young played the opening chords of 'You Shook Me All Night Long' a wave of euphoria swept through. The big screens captured the moment showing girls on shoulders, and men punching the air. There was more great stuff to come. Axl's Brian Johnson impression may have been flawed occasionally but he did a mean Bon Scott as I thought he would. 'T.N.T'was great and 'Whole Lotta Rosie' - where Axl reprised the version he used to play with Guns N' Roses - even better.
Late on, the rest of the stage blacked out, and Angus Young turned 'Let There Be Rock' into a staggering display of endurance. Dripping with sweat, the Glasgow-born guitarist writhed on the floor like a Scots salmon, playing his guitar as if his life depended on it. Mesmerising is the only word I can find to describe it.. He was everywhere, throwing himself around, duck-walking on top of the speaker cabinets and generally being Angus. Brilliant...
It wasn't really until the encore, though, that we really got what many had been waiting for. 'Highway to Hell' started with Angus appearing through a trapdoor surrounded by flames. Then Axl Rose returned to the stage. He was now fully kitted out in his trademark bandanna and kilt and proceeded to rip through the song like a man possessed. It was fantastic stuff. This wasn't like reality star Adam Lambert trying to fill the shoes of Freddie Mercury, as there is no doubt that Axl is rock royalty in his own right so this was the real thing. It was irresistible, and, young and old, the crowd lapped it up, seemingly grateful for a blast of uncomplicated escapism. Next up was 'Riff Raff', something we rarely got to enjoy with Brian Johnson, and then the big guns of the gladiatorial closing number 'For Those About To Rock'. This sounded a defiant note: Change of personnel or not.. this band ain't done yet. The rumoured Slash appearance on stage never materialised, but then AC/DC were never that kind of band.
Like an antipodean Status Quo, AC/DC have forged a decade's long career of about three chords. This is both impressive and limiting. Impressive because they have written more than a few stone cold classics within the format; limiting because many of the songs inevitably end up sounding the same.. But this was not a night for complaints or contemplation from me or any of the other 60,000 odd present... This was heavy rock at its best and Axl and AC/DC proved themselves masters of the genre. Axl Rose the team player? Truly, I’ve seen it all now….
Rock Or Bust
Shoot To Thrill
Hell Ain't A Bad Place To Be
Back In Black
Got Some Rock & Roll Thunder
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
Rock 'N' Roll Damnation
Rock 'N' Roll Train
Given The Dog A Bone
If You Want Blood (You've Got It)
You Shook Me All Night Long
Shot Down In Flames
Have A Drink On Me
Whole Lotta Rosie
Let There Be Rock
Highway To Hell
For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)
Wrinkly the Silver