Perched at the centre of the Corner Hotel stage was Airbourne singer and lead guitarist Joel O’Keeffe. He raised the VB can clenched in his twisted paw and we watched as it was momentarily eviscerated between his protracted claws and emptied in a single gush into his waiting muzzle. He discarded the remnants of the can into the audience with a smile. A receptive hand seized it and a young man with long hair, clad in a denim jacket, dripped what beer was left into his mouth.
O’Keeffe reared back towards his brother Ryan behind the drum kit and started off a riff that was soon joined by Ryan’s hi-hats. The tom and bass drums of the kit had been furnished with empty VB cans fastened with scrap wire and they shook with every hit and kick. The increasingly propulsive song – No Way But the Hard Way – was soon joined by the rest of the band’s rhythm section. Justin Street on bass and David Roads on guitar, along with the younger O’Keeffe, remained thoroughly in the pocket the entire night.
Earlier in the night Thin Lizzy’s Jailbreak had given way to the theme from Terminator 2. The Corner band room was swathed in red light as the iconic timpani crushed the audience into a ready submission. The spotlights snapped on and the band asked the crowd if they were Ready To Rock in their native tongue: raw, powerful, pub-christened rock and roll, turned up extra loud.
Throughout the set, the crowd of leather and denim and shoulder-length hair jumped and danced and whipped their hair. The whole crowd – young, old, boy, girl – hung helplessly and happily from the teeth of the guitar bite, as the band continued the galvanic, pint-lifting rawk: Chewin’ the Fat, Born To Kill, Diamond in the Rough.
“I’m a Melbourne fan,” declared Joel O’Keeffe between Girls In Black and No One Fits Me (Better Than You), “and we’re not doing too well this season. I don’t think we’re gonna get anywhere but the bottom rung of the ladder! And Australia’s not doing too well in the Ashes, but you know what? Rock and roll is doing bloody well tonight in Melbourne!” The crowd burst open with cheers and howls and chants of “Aaaaaaaair- boooourne! Aaaaaaaair- boooourne!”
With the constant, strained screams of “Rock and roll!” and the shirtless, sweaty gyrations of lead singer O’Keeffe, the simple, cro-magnon rock that destroyed eardrums with every blues-tinged note, it was as though we were standing in the mind of Jack Black. It was a rock and roll fantasy, distilled and purified like a good whiskey. During set-closer Runnin’ Wild, the band worked through the riffs of Paranoid, Dog Eat Dog and Dirty Deeds Done Dirty Cheap — they all fit in seamlessly, like pieces of a grand puzzle.
Chants of “Aaaaaaaair- boooourne!” coaxed the band back on stage for an encore. The song was called Stand Up for Rock ‘n’ Roll — and everyone did.