Airbourne, live in London

The Aussie boozehounds come to London

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It's Thursday night and we're up for a party, so where do you turn? Realistically there's only one band in town worth partying with tonight and that's the beer-chugging, riff-roaring, Down Under wrongdoers Airbourne. Here's what we learned...

Airbourne always pick great support bands

Their last UK headline tour featured an Orange Goblin/The Treatment double whammy-bar on support detail, whilst retro rockers Black Spiders have enjoyed warming up the crowds for Airbourne on several occasions – they’re basically the in-house opening act. On this short run of club shows the responsibility (or lack thereof) falls on the shoulders of Leicester power trio Skam. Thankfully they’re more than up to the challenge, winning plenty of new fans over with their no-nonsense rock ‘n’ roll boogie. A young UK band in the classic rock mould, the songs from their new album Peacemaker sound even bigger and bolder live, more than justifying their place on tonight’s bill.

Airbourne love the UK, and the UK loves them

Every band that’s ever played our little island says the same thing – with varying degrees of sincerity – but when Airbourne say “We’re fucking glad to be back in the UK”, you know they bloody well mean it. One look at their European tour laminate picturing Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson confirms this, and their kinship with the UK is on full display this evening, most notably in the introduction to Cheap Wine, Cheaper Women, during which frontman Joel O’Keeffe lifts up a bottle of Stone’s Green Ginger Wine, proudly announcing; “This is the cheapest wine in the world – and you can only buy it here and in Australia.” Tonight’s set is littered with such references – from the nod to Black Sabbath’s Paranoid in their set closer to celebrations of “steak and ale pie” and other British traditions – and the crowd laps it up.

Intimate shows are awesome

As festival season draws to a close, there’s no better way to usher in the autumn/winter touring season than by watching a massive, main stage festival band in an indoor, intimate environment. Tonight’s a poignant reminder of how special these one-off club shows are. Not only are you much closer to the action, but you also get longer sets and lesser-heard tracks (tonight includes early B-side Hell Fire, and Stand And Deliver off Airbourne’s first EP Ready To Rock) as well as the chance to dictate the set. Early on the crowd is given the option of Blonde, Bad And Beautiful or No Way But The Hard Way, with Joel playing the opening riff to both and asking people to shout for which they’d rather hear. Audience interaction characterises the remainder of the evening too. Joel even takes the time to introduce the individual members of the band, which is the sort of self-indulgency Airbourne usually avoid in favour of a breakneck speed set, but on this occasion they’re notably relaxed and the informal nature of tonight’s show clearly sits well all involved.

There ain’t no way but the hard way

If you think scaling back the show to fit into a smaller venue means losing the stage antics that make an Airbourne gig special, think again. Six songs in, Joel mounts his guitar tech’s shoulders and ploughs through the packed room to the bar at the back, riffing in-sync with the rest of the band. Not content with a solo on top of the bar, he jumps behind and pours himself a pint, raising his glass to the reverent crowd below and taking a heroic swig, before navigating his way back to the stage. Upon his return, the band build the song towards its booze-soaked crescendo and Joel cheekily declares; “I might be the only person in here tonight to blag a free beer.” This isn’t the case for long though, as during set closer Runnin’ Wild Joel begins his trademark ‘crack a can open with your skull’ routine and throws several tinnies out for the audience to enjoy. Needless to say, they’re all polished off post-haste. It might be a school night, but the crowd are just as up for it as the band, and as the set reaches its climax the energy in the room is tangible.

This band goes up to 11

Airbourne might still be a way off being a festival headlining band, but that’s only because they don’t have the full arsenal of songs just yet, and considering they’re only on their third album they’re not doing too bad. It’s taken Avenged Sevenfold six albums to get to the top of the charts and headline Download, after all. When Airbourne went into the studio to record their first LP Runnin’ Wild, they didn’t even know what a hook was – much to the dismay of their producer. Yet somehow they succeeded in writing one of the greatest debut rock albums of the 21st century. Fast-forward six years, and the latest album (Black Dog Barking) saw the Aussie act establish themselves as a unique voice at the forefront of the modern day rock movement. The AC/DC comparisons still arise of course, and Airbourne will undoubtedly always wear the influence of their forefathers proudly on their sleeve (tonight they bust into a bit of Dirty Deeds, Done Dirt Cheap before paying tribute to “a Scottish boy called Malcolm”) but in the live setting they’re incomparable – an utterly unrivalled, unstoppable force of nature. And tonight they’re firing from every cylinder.

The band sound better than ever with bluesy riffing, ripping solos, no-nonsense drumming and high-octane rock ‘n’ roll being the order of business from start to finish–- and there’s not a single person in the room tonight not headbanging, fist-pumping or clapping along to everything from fan-favourite Stand Up For Rock N Roll to newer hits like Live It Up. From a band at this stage in their career, you couldn’t ask for anything more from a live show. This is rock ‘n’ roll in its purest form, played with swagger, guts, vitality and honesty by a band that live, breath, sweat and bleed rock ‘n’ roll. It’s written and performed to be enjoyed loud and without irony, reservation or scrutiny, and if you leave a show like tonight’s feeling anything less than absolutely satisfied then you came to the wrong gig in the first place.

Matt Stocks

DJ, presenter, writer, photographer and podcaster Matt Stocks was a presenter on Kerrang! Radio before a year’s stint on the breakfast show at Team Rock Radio, where he also hosted a punk show and a talk show called Soundtrack Apocalypse. He then moved over to television, presenting on the Sony-owned UK channel Scuzz TV for three years, whilst writing regular features and reviews for Metal Hammer and Classic Rock magazine. He also wrote, produced and directed a feature-length documentary on Australian hard rock band Airbourne called It’s All For Rock ‘N’ Roll, and in 2017 launched his own podcast: Life in the Stocks. His first book, also called Life In The Stocks, was published in 2020. A second volume was published in April 2022.