AC/DC: Wembley Stadium
The trouble with stadium gigs, like most large events, are the other people. Idiots with no consideration for others, who spend their time trooping back and fore to the bar, ignoring the excellent support band and only really getting excited when the main outfit play their biggest hit; Welcome to the event wanker...
Surprisingly, despite 80,000 people descending on the home of English football on a gloriously hot summer’s day, the event wankers were quite limited. Maybe we were a bit luckier than at past gigs, or maybe it is because AC/DC have nothing in their arsenal but massive songs but hey, I’m always grateful for small mercies.
We hit the edge of the Capital with plenty of time, spending a pleasant couple of hours seeking shade from the blistering sun with a beverage or two, chatting and people watching. And there were people everywhere. Like many of the biggest gigs, the vast majority sported a range of AC/DC t-shirts, with the merchandise doing an absolute killing; queues forming at every outlet. Wembley isn't the most attractive place to hang out, with a high percentage of the surrounding area concreted which is always unforgiving on a boiling hot summer’s day.
Anyway, managing to remain pretty cool, we headed into the stadium around an hour after gates had opened to be greeted by the massive stage, complete with decaying ironwork effect and the classic AC/DC logo incorporated into the top of the semi-circle which curved around the stage. Huge screens flanked the stage and a walkway stretched out into the standing area. Around 40,000 were already in the main arena, with the front of the stage crammed with those willing or desperate enough to stand in the heat for three hours.
At 7.15, all the way from Los Angeles, California, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Vintage Trouble. Now, regular readers of the Musipedia will know that VT is a particular favourite around these parts, with our latest viewing a mere three months ago in the slightly more intimate surroundings of Motion in Bristol. VT is in the ascendancy; they've completed massive tours with the Stones, The Who and most recently Paloma Faith whilst they put in a fantastic shift at Glastonbury, earning many new admirers along the way. They've been the AC/DC support throughout Europe, and I for one was extremely pleased to get the opportunity to have a further opportunity to catch one of the hardest working bands on the planet.
Unfortunately, large swathes of the audience clearly didn't share enthusiasm and although there was a solid response directly in front of Ty and the boys, it was clear that a support band were almost an irritant to many. Undeterred, VT hit the stage bursting with their usual energy, Ty Taylor leading the charge with his soulful intro into High Times (They Are A Coming). Immaculately dressed as always, in a dark suit, red shirt and black cravat, he charged around the stage for the entire set. Second song, the infectious Blues Hand Me Down got a few more of the audience interested with the backing vocals of Nalle Colt, Rick Barrio Dill and Richard Danielson combining with Ty’s infectious delivery. Total Strangers maintained the momentum, with VT deliberately adapting their set to a higher tempo to match the headliner. Taylor’s interaction with the audience, usually so fluid and responsive, struggled at times and was not helped by a reduced volume in the mix which meant at times it was hard to ascertain what he was saying.
This was by no means a poor VT show, don’t misunderstand me. If You Loved Me and newie Angel City, California showed the bluesy side of the band, before Ty’s obligatory crowd surf during Run Like The River allowed Nalle Colt opportunity to demonstrate some mean fretwork and peaked the interests of a few hundred more. Set closer Shine Your Light (Right On Me) obtained a decent response and they ended to a decent round of applause. Not a vintage display but another solid show from a band whose rise will surely increase in pace when the new album hits the shops in a few weeks. 7/10
A 35 minute change over allowed us time to use the facilities, refresh the glasses (okay, plastic cups) and move further back but more central for the arrival of AC/DC. It’s been a very long time since I saw this band, and if you believe the media, this was likely to be the last opportunity to catch them live. There was massive anticipation around the stadium as the stage lit up with one of the most impressive light shows I've ever seen; videos flashed across the giant screens and then, bang! Straight into Rock Or Bust, Angus and co. hit the stage with the entire stadium bouncing and singing along. Shoot to Thrill followed with frontman Brian Johnson delivering a masterclass, his imitable growly vocals still impressive after 35 years with the band. If ever there was truth in the adage “If it ain't broke, don’t fix it” then this is the band that demonstrate it to the full. With a set packed full of classics, it was highly unlikely that there would be any surprises. Indeed, AC/DC merely pin you to the wall with the sheer quality of their blues based boogie and then trample over your head. Hell Ain't A Bad Place To Be was up next before the massive Back In Black crashed in early in the set.
AC/DC don’t care what the media think about set lists; they give the fans exactly what they want and that is staple after staple. Apparently 13 of the tracks aired at Wembley featured in a set list in 1982. So what is all I can say? As well as the title track, the band also featured two other songs from Rock Or Bust, the catchy Play Ball and the rather weak Baptism By Fire. Huge ovations for Dirty Deeds and High Voltage from the Bon Scott era, with an absolutely enormous cheer as Angus struck the opening chords to Thunderstruck. And here’s the thing: AC/DC is really all focused on Angus Young, at 60 years young still scampering around the stage at 100mph, pulling faces that make him look like he’s fitting, whilst all the while showing why he remains one of the world’s greatest ever fretboard musicians. Back in the 1980s, when Kerrang! was a decent magazine, Angus would regularly win the best guitarist category. Probably unthinkable now.
Meanwhile the backline and heartbeat of the band pumps away; sure, Malcolm has been replaced by Uncle Stevie (looking every one of his 58 years!) and Chris Slade, no stranger to the band having played and recorded with them several times, is now the recognised tub thumper and absolute powerhouse at 67 but elder statesman Cliff Williams continues to pound out the rhythm as if it is 1978. A quick nod to Black Ice with the mighty Rock ‘n’ Roll Train before 80,000 spines tingled as the bell appeared and sounded the start of the epic Hell's Bells. As Angus became more and more animated, a slight calming in tempo with the magical Sin City, one of my favourite all-time tracks. It was a limited respite though, as Shot Down In Flames and a mighty T.N.T stoked the heat back up a few degrees, with Johnson continuing to prowl the stage like a panther.
With time flying it was time for the inflatable lady to arrive, yep, Bon's tribute to a rather large conquest. Whole Lotta Rosie, complete with obligatory “Angus” chants absolutely destroyed the stadium, the thousands of flashing horns that people had purchased creating a great sight around the place. Set closer was the classic Let There Be Rock, complete with an Angus Young guitar solo that lasted at least 15 minutes but which didn't seem anything like as long (take note please, Zakk Wylde). The band exited with the crowd absolutely breathless and all working out which monster tunes had been saved for the encore. Of course, we all knew and as the timeless riff to Highway To Hell ripped around the stadium, there was nothing to do but to indulge in some rock ‘n’roll air guitar and air punching to the chorus. As the giant horns above the stage lit up, the horns all around the stadium once again contributed to a magnificent sight. Inevitably, the final song was as it has been since about 1981; For Those About to Rock, complete with six cannons mounted on the massive Marshall stacks, saluted all those assembled in front and the 21 gun salute, followed by a blast of fireworks concluded a fantastic evening. I've since read that the sound wasn't good; I think that it in part due to the fact that this was in a football stadium and the sound ricochets around the place, but also depends on where you are situated as I wasn't aware of any sound problems. AC/DC may charge a lot for their tickets but hell, it was so worth it. A band in a class of their own and absolutely captivating live. Never has two hours gone so quickly in the live arena. I can’t drop a point anywhere. Utter brilliance. 10/10