Gavin Strickmann's been galivanting abroad again... this time to have a look-see to find out if all the AC/DC-related fuss has been warranted...
Axl/DC. Guns n’Angus. Whatever witty name you’ve decided to give the travelling circus that AC/DC seem to have unwittingly become in short order, whatever you hear about seven thousand Belgians demanding their money back in support of the ‘kicked to the curb’ Brian Johnson – quite literally Bedlam in Belgium – none of this carping seems to have reached the denizens of Marseille, who are frankly mad for what’s about to happen. I’ve been going to gigs for a long, long time and I can’t remember seeing such childlike glee in the eyes of grown men since, well, probably since Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith reunited with Iron Maiden for that Earls Court show in about the year 2000…
Were they disappointed? No, but then I guess every one of the French men and women gathered here tonight are here because they want to see this thing work, and, to a large extent, work it certainly does.
There are few bigger presences in world rock n’roll than Axl Rose and Angus Young, but the matter of one upstaging the other is conveniently sidestepped by the fact that Axl is still thronebound after breaking his leg; consequently he’s reduced to trundling back and forth like some rock n’roll hybrid of Stephen Hawking and Davros, leaving Angus to roam the highways and byways of the enormous Velodrome stage at will.
Sitting down doesn’t seem to hamper Rose’s voice, however, as, after easing into the set with a windblown take on Rock or Bust the man absolutely slays Shoot to Thrill. Honestly, you will never have heard this song sung with so much melodic venom as Mr Bailey imparted to it tonight. If I’m honest it’s game set and match to everyone concerned with putting this together at his point, as I certainly didn’t think it would sound this good. Angus pulls out the first of several superlative solos to ram home the point even further that this is very much AC/DC as going concern rather than contractual obligation.
And it’s not just me that thinks this. The monsieur in front of me absolutely loses his shit as the band slink into a slow burning yet very incendiary Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be. I’ve never seen uncoordinated cavorting like it as he emulates Angus’ famed duck walk to the delight of his chums before ending up in an undignified, all-legs-and-arms-heap in front of me. Still, funny as this is, I’m meant to be reviewing the show so I decide to move somewhere more lunatic free to a better vantage point for the rest of the show. Security seem to have given up checking peoples tickets by now so after a quick beer during Back in Black I meander down into the general admission area where the sound is much better and, mercifully, the crowd a bit calmer.
Thunderstruck doesn’t fare quite so well, Axl starting to sound a little ragged around the edges as the band warms up and he’s forced to push the vocals a bit more, and the set sags a bit here with Rock n’Roll Train in particular sounding like a bit of a dud. However things absolutely pick up with an earth-shattering version of If You Want Blood (You Got It), which takes the newish roof off the place with it’s ferocity and sheer joyous attack. Angus stands next to Axl as the song reaches it’s explosive denouement, Axl gamely trying to headbang whilst strapped to his contraption, and for a moment you feel you’re glimpsing a very real future for this combination of musicians. Sin City is almost as good, thunderously heavy with Axl doing justice to the Bon Scott spoken word bit in the middle and Angus soloing like a demon.
It’s clear Axl prefers singing the Bon Scott material – he certainly seems more comfortable – but he plugs away like a trouper on You Shook Me All Night Long hitting all the notes Brian can’t anymore and justifying his inclusion again one hundred per cent.
Shot Down in Flames is as good as I’ve heard in years, Rose dominating the vocal and banishing those Thunderstruck misgivings, the rhythm section – it’s easy, almost too easy to forget they are there half the time – powering the song with maximum tightness and minimum flash. Of course Stevie Young isn’t Malcolm but he doesn’t put a foot wrong all night and Cliff Williams and Chris Slade keep everything on track with metronomic reliability and Herculean bombast. T.N.T. and the inevitable Whole Lotta Rosie flash by in a maelstrom of middle aged moshing, before an epic Let There Be Rock closes the set proper and features Angus’s one set piece solo of the night.
And what a set piece it is, the little man elevated on a hydraulic platform in the middle of the stadium to the delight of the massed crowds, before returning to the stage alone to play a little blues atop the amps. That signals the end of the set proper, the band returning (and Angus appearing through the stage like some naughty little Demon) to romp through a partyriffic Highway to hell, a coruscating take on Riff Raff and then, of course, closing out proceedings with a bombastic For Those About to Rock (We Salute You). When the smoke finally lifts after assorted cannon fire and fireworks, the crowd are literally like stunned mullets, although every one of us realise we’ve seen something very special indeed in the Velodrome tonight.
I really don’t know if this has a future beyond the shows Axl agreed to do to get AC/DC out of a rut, but on tonight’s evidence there’s certainly some legs in the idea, and I for one would love to hear what Axl and Angus come up with if they get down to writing together…