Guitarist Diaries: AC/DC @ 02 Arena, London, 14/2/2009

1 x giant runaway freight train – check

1 x giant runaway freight train – check
One giant inflatable Rosie straddling said freight train – check
1 x Hells bell – check
6 x pyrotechnical cannons – check
1 x hydraulic lifting platform for lead guitarist’s solo spot – check

Yep, all present and correct – AC/DC are in town. Can they still cut it?
Of course they can. It’s been six years since I last saw the band live, re-opening the Hammersmith Apollo in 2003. That gig went by in a glorious blur. I wondered if age would have mellowed the Young brothers but a minute into opening song Runaway Train (and after a great animated intro starring a devilish Angus as the driver) I had no such concerns. The video screens tonight testify – both guitarist still have that possessed look in their eyes as they are taken over by the power of the rock – they’re in another place, hell perhaps? Well it’s not a bad place to be after all.

The set tonight unsurprisingly sticks to the solid gold hits, peppered with Black Ice material. The new songs like War Machine obviously feel a little anti-climatic next to some of the greatest rock songs ever written – You Shook Me All Night Long, Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be, Back In Black to name three – and Angus’ solos seem to be slightly anonymous on them. However, that’s largely because they’re so electrifying on the songs we know so well – and the video screen close-ups on his hands during solos give guitarists a good look at what he’s playing too. Indeed, it still feels like Angus’ show in many ways – a guitar icon, covering every inch of the stage with his black SG and duck walk. It’s still a glorious thing to see – even when he does the obligatory strip to (AC/DC-branded) boxer shorts on The Jack.

They even play my all-time favourite ‘DC song, Shot Down In Flames and Brian’s voice seems to be holding up pretty well – the crowd taking on the load for the chorus’ and his between song banter brief but heartfelt as ever. Indeed, anyone who wasn’t at least tapping a foot throughout this gig really needs to wonder what they were doing here – at least Justin Hawkins certainly seemed to be enjoying himself in the seat to the left of where I was standing.

The only slight downers were the 02 arena’s acoustics are still questionable for gigs; the volume was there (judging by my ringing ears afterwards) but the clarity was often lacking. Also, the band itself seemed to have noticeably slowed down Whole Lotta Rosie. But I’ll take it anyway they want to give – and Let There Be Rock that followed was certainly firing on all cylinders. Literally, if that was a cheeky cigarette I saw Phil Rudd with during its duration.

Yes indeed, anyone seeing them in London tonight is in for a treat. AC/DC are still the best pub rock band in the world – except the pub is bigger than ever, and the drinks cost a lot more.

Here’s the setlist so look away now if you don’t want spoilers…

1. Rock N' Roll Train
2. Hell Ain't A Bad Place To Be
3. Back In Black
4. Big Jack
5. Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
6. Shot Down in Flames
7. Thunderstruck
8. Black Ice
9. The Jack
10. Hells Bells
11. Shoot To Thrill
12. War Machine
13. Anything Goes
14. You Shook Me All Night Long
15. TNT
16. Whole Lotta Rosie
17. Let There Be Rock + Angus solo
18. Highway To Hell
19. For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)