Monday, 29 June 2009

Highway to hell

There are many reasons not to go to large outdoor gigs. AC/DC at Punchestown ticked most of the boxes. I have to say the band themselves were pretty tight and put on a typically straightforward AC/DC show. No chat between songs, two hours of most of the staples they've been playing live for decades now and five songs off the new album. Here's a crowd video of Highway to Hell. But it felt like budget AC/DC, despite the 76 euro ticket. The cannons were en route to Hampden Park, I presume, and the stage seemed small. Maybe this was a consequence of being so far away, at least 200m. There was a visible delay between the guitar, voice and drums on the video and the sound reaching us. Being so far away was a consequence of Punchestown, which was, quite simply, a dreadful venue.

The ground curves imperceptibly downwards from the stage before curving up again after about 200m so if you want to see the real live performance you either have to be up in the first tens of metres taking your life in your hands or so far away that you would need hawk-like vision to pick out the figures on stage. As Father Ted tries to explain to Father Dougal: "This guitarist is one inch high. Those guitarists are far away." As a result of being so far away there was little atmosphere, not aided by heavy rain showers and a capricious breeze which took the sound with it so that the laser-sharp Gibson SG sound and sonic blast you would expect to be pulverised with at an AC/DC gig only occasionally cut through the elements.

The midsummer timing didn't help either. Only the last few, post-11pm songs were played in something approaching darkness, despite the gloomy weather, which means the whole rock-as-religious-experience thing is lost, unless you're very drunk and swaying in the midst of a mad-for-it crowd, which I don't really fancy these days. Finally, the traffic and transport arrangements were at best shambolic and at worst could have resulted in serious disturbance, given the number of punters severely under the influence, staggering off coaches at the M50 to walk the remainder of the way or charging the barriers as we waited for the coaches home. Oliv and I were on the bus two and half hours before we quit and walked for another hour and a quarter to get to the venue itself. Afterwards, we queued for an hour in quite a crush before the crowd's patience ran out and the barriers were upended. It was every man and woman for themselves at that stage and fifteen minutes later we got on a bus just entering the car park and thankfully grabbed seats upstairs. It was 0045 by that time and it took about ninety minutes to get back to Dublin. The only bright spot was flagging a taxi immediately on alighting from the coach.

All in all, it's hard to set aside all the chaos of getting there and home and enduring the queues for food and standing about in the rain and say the performance made it all worthwhile. I'd liked to have been closer but didn't fancy the mayhem. The video feed wasn't great, one shot replicated on three or four screens which were all up by the stage.

Brian Johnston and Angus Young sounded and looked in good nick and I felt a tad emotional for times long past when Angus was up on the amps slicing out his Let There Be Rock solo. It's 27 years since I first saw them and that was part of the problem yesterday. AC/DC will always be "my band", the one that saw me through my formative years and beyond. I know every track, every drum-beat, every note of every solo. But last night was not a private experience. There were lots of people there for the day out, to hear a couple of songs, to say they'd seen AC/DC. The thousands who left after Whole Lotta Rosie confirmed that suspicion. I can't argue that they don't have a right to do that but it's almost why I enjoy a tribute band like Livewire more. A crowd of fans in a small venue, there to hear AC/DC's music played live, the way it should be heard, the way it started out 35 years ago as they slogged their way round the clubs of Australia.

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