The Airbourne identity: frantic, fun-loving, loud and proud. As a bunch of hard rocking, hard living Aussies you’d expect nothing less from a quartet committed to their trade in crunching riffs and raucous choruses.
But it’s just impossible to prepare for the aural assault that is Airbourne – even if you think you can. And it’s just as difficult predicting where hyper frontman Joel O’Keeffe might end up during the course of a show which takes rock and roll right back to its performance-led roots.
The vibrant vocalist shows no signs of kicking his habit for straying far beyond the boundaries of the stage. But tonight he went way beyond the bars favoured by support band Taking Dawn and went on a little trip through the masses, out the back, up the stairs, onto the balcony (almost over the balcony) and back again. Crazy stuff.
Excursions were the only thing label mates Airbourne and Taking Dawn had in common. Where the former enjoyed a pristine sound showcasing their raw aggression to a tee, the latter, hailing from the desert of Las Vegas, suffered a mix barren of any imagination or clarity.
On their classy Roadrunner Records debut, Time To Burn, Taking Dawn come across as accomplished and with an appetite for social destruction. This sounded nothing like that glossy studio offering with volume seemingly the only goal.
The US stars in the making are clearly talented musicians but this brief and best forgotten set offered an ambitious quartet no chance to showcase their neat licks and classic hooks. Charismatic frontman Chris Babbitt is born to command far bigger stages than this – and will do when Taking Dawn open up for Kiss this summer – but even he can’t cut through a lazy, hazy mix.
Seasoned giggers Black Spiders suffered no such problems, their beefed up British heavy rock sounding better and better with age. The Sheffield behemoths could teach Airbourne a thing a two about what it really means to come from a steel town with their retro 70s metal backed by three guitars and those instantly identifiable vocals.
With bands like The Sword and Priestess gaining widespread praise and the exposure to match it’s high time the Spiders’ brand of rhythmic rioting is given the recognition it deserves. This was about as solid a set as you’re likely to get from a support band and catching these guys on their upcoming headline tour has suddenly become essential.
So to Airbourne and their instantly identifiable Aussie pub rock. It’s basic but it’s brilliant and it’s guaranteed to put a smile on the face of everyone but the most cynical rocker. In the irrepressible O’Keeffe the band boast a Diamond In The Rough – that singalong anthem remains a firm crowd favourite and will be a staple in the Airbourne set for years to come.
Listen to the band’s urgent debut Runnin’ Wild and equally frantic follow-up No Guts, No Glory back to back and it’s difficult to discern any true musical development. But in the live arena Airbourne are growing at pace – David Roads and Justin Street possess genuine vocal talent and their focused chanting is the perfect foil for O’Keeffe during choruses made to bring beered-up crowds alive.
Heartbreaker has the potential to become the band’s most memorable tune to date given a slower pace and a cleaner sound. But then Airbourne don’t do slow. Where AC/DC throw in the occasional slower number to add a different texture to their otherwise full-on sets, their fellow countrymen don’t bother with any subtle changes of pace. Not yet, anyway. Perhaps the confidence gleaned from crafting two well received albums will lead to a ‘road to Damascus’ moment – it really doesn’t have to be breakneck speed all of the time. Most of the time is just fine.
Surprisingly the tracks culled from No Guts, No Glory were the real winners on a night when both Airbourne records were given their chance to shine. Born To Kill, No Way But The Hard Way, Blonde Bad And Beautiful and encore choice Steel Town all sounded far superior delivered live than they do on record. And that’s a good thing. Rather that anomaly than the problem facing Taking Dawn as they struggle to transfer the sound of a sparkling and expansive debut onto intimate stages.
O’Keeffe might have played on Newcastle United’s ongoing promotion party a little too often and any fans who had travelled from south of the Tyne had every right to be mightily miffed at the singer’s obsession with Chris Hughton’s Premiership-bound men. But the majority warmed to a performer who put every last ounce of energy into a display which oozed passion and justifiable pride.
Airbourne are here to stay and it’s time to jump aboard for what should be a remarkable journey during the next two decades.