Live Review: AC/DC, The Hives, Kingswood

13 November 2015 | 2:26 pm | Sean Hourigan

"At one point, Angus Young is standing on a raised stage in the middle of the mosh by himself, holding a rapt 45,000 or so people to attention ... It's. Fucking. Amazing."

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It’s 5.25pm and the line(s) to get into the Queensland Sport and Athletics Centre (QSAC) have already grown to about 100m long. It’s a warm Thursday afternoon and we’re all here to see a band that’s been making headlines for more than 40 years — we’re here to see the legendary AC/DC on their Rock Or Bust Tour. 

Once the gates open, the crowd shuffles forward past the scanners and the guys with blue surgical gloves searching bags. The most eager of fans rush their way to the front barricades, as close to the stage as possible, right where they’re going to camp themselves for the next four hours or so.

At 6pm precisely, as the sky turns an orangey-pink and the sundown draws near, Kingswood appear on stage. The Melbourne four-piece’s set is short –  not much more than four songs – but it sounds great; nothing drowns out anything else. Their third song of the set, I Can Feel That You Don’t Love Me, is a particular highlight, and the whole performance sounds great, but Kingswood steadfastly refuse to work the stage. In an arena the size of this, it’s a problem. To anyone more than 50 metres back, Kingswood are ants. It’s not helped by the fact that the screens to the left and right of the stage are only showing a single stationary camera view of the band. Kingswood play a great-sounding set but, for all intents and purposes, it may as well have been on the radio.

The lights soon go out and foreboding Jaws-like music fills the air. It’s fully night time when the stage lights burst on and Swedish rock stalwarts The Hives take the stage, resplendent in their white suit jackets. It’s immediately clear that The Hives are used to playing larger crowds; their lead singer, Howlin' Pelle Almqvist, is up and down the stage like an old pro. There’s a reason why The Hives are regarded as one of the world’s best live acts. Almqvist’s singing doesn’t match Kingswood’s Fergus Linacre, but he more than makes up for it with stage presence.

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By the fourth song, Die, All Right!, Almqvist is prowling all over the stage and right down into the crowd. He’s high-fiving the front rows all while smashing out the songs — it’s a pleasure to watch. By Hate To Say I Told You So, he’s marching across the stage like a rock 'n' roll drill sergeant, taking the crowd through basic training. Once again, the experience is marred by the bloody screens on the side of the stage. They are almost useless, except for augmenting the view of the people seated off to the side. The set ends with Tick, Tick Boom!, a bunch of solos and the tiny white-suited ants bowing to the audience. The crowd really seems to like it but it’s clear that it’s the main event for which they’ve been waiting.

Suddenly, the lights go dim and there’s a rumble in the crowd. Then, a cheer goes up. The screens come to life. There’s a moon landing. Flames. A meteor. There’s Rosie. Explosions. Roaring. Even fireworks! A figure on stage. It’s Angus frigging Young, looking sprightly in his bright-red schoolboy outfit, like a guitar-wielding escapee from a private Catholic school for rock demons. The crowd goes mental; AC/DC's Rock Or Bust has commenced and it is glorious.

The band follow up their titular opener with Shoot To Thrill; Young and lead singer Brian Johnson are working the stage like seasoned lap dancers with bills to pay. They know exactly what they need to do to get the reaction they need. Johnson’s growling shrieks are lighting up the audience’s hind-brains like a hominid hearing a roar in the night. There’s something primal about this act. Johnson and Young are hunters on the stage and the audience is their prey.

The band is electric. The cameras cut to the three towards the rear of the stage; Chris Slade’s sweaty, bald head is hovering above the drums, his arms madly thrashing away. Cliff Williams, his long grey hair draping over his shoulders is just as assured on the bass as ever. Stevie Young on rhythm guitar is working hard out there, too, a sheen of sweat on his face forming after the third song.

Johnson is constantly in motion, traversing the stage. His black shirt and jeans and signature grey newsboy cap are mesmerising to watch, even if his vocals are sometimes drowned out by the rest of the band and the distortion on some songs makes his voice almost unintelligible. Regardless, every lady in the first five rows reckons he was singing directly to her.

There are huge production elements to this performance. For Hell’s Bells, a giant bell above the stage crashes in time to the music; right near the end of the main set, the giant, inflatable, busty Rosie figure comes to play for Whole Lotta Rosie. She’s two storeys tall on her side and gyrating like a gogo dancer.

A particular highlight of the night is Angus Young’s 10 minute solo in Let There Be Rock. At one point he’s standing on a raised stage in the middle of the mosh by himself, holding a rapt 45,000 or so people to attention. It’s like a lone man after the zombie apocalypse holding a horde of revenants off with just the power of his guitar. He’s showered in a hail of streamers from cannons below the stage.

It’s. Fucking. Amazing.

The band take a brief break while the crowd gets restless. A wave of stomping runs through the stands. Suddenly, here’s Angus Young, rising up from beneath the stage like a horned demon from the underworld blasting out the opening of Highway To Hell. Next, the rest of the band appears from the rear of the stage, Brian Johnson clad in a Brisbane Lions jersey. There’s flames shooting up from the side of the stage, the heat from them radiates all the way to the stands. This is the encore you’ve been hearing about. It’s huge.

This is what the show has been building towards. For Those About to Rock (We Salute You) is the finale. Johnson’s screaming lyrics, the wailing guitars, the thumping drums are magnified to the explosions of cannons – yes, cannons – from all over the stage. The song builds to an orgiastic crescendo of firearms and fireworks above the stadium.

And… that’s it. One of the greatest bands of all time has just been right there on stage. Making mincemeat of your eyes, ears and mind for two hours and it’s all done. Now it’s back to reality and the bloody 90 minute wait for a bus.