NOT ONE OF the great Wembley encounters, we decided, as the car crept another couple of feet in the late Saturday evening jam.
We reflected on the good moments – the polite effectiveness of Nils Lofgren, AC/DC’s crude and abrasive conquering assault – and brooded over the disappointments: the failure of the Stranglers to communicate, and the Who’s ability to function, no matter how lethargically, while commanding total adulation from their audience.
But no matter how well (or poorly) the participants perform, the onus for the success of an occasion of this magnitude – with an attendance of at least 50,000 – is on The Event, the charisma to transform artists from being dots on the horizon to giants for a day. That never happened on Saturday.
Despite an excellent sound system, which effectively killed the myth that you can’t get a good outdoor sound, only AC/DC really managed to move the audience, a reaction that was best gauged when the p.a. packed up during their set, leading to a bitter reaction from an audience that was plainly getting into rough ‘n’ tumble boogie. When the sound was fixed, there was a roar that would have done the Kop proud.
Of course, the appearance of the Who prompted hysteria far exceeding anything AC/DC could hope to achieve, but the point is that if Pete Townshend had come on dressed as Andy Pandy and sung Dooleys hits, he would have been greeted with nothing short of canonisation. Naturally, a Who fan wouldn’t say that, because a Who fan is always convinced that another gig by the band is the Second (and probably last) Coming. And I am not a fan of the Who.
At the risk, then, of aggravating the Who’s supporters, but without demeaning their past and present achievements, I’d suggest that their live set these days comes as an after thought (and sounds like it) to their other interests, specifically the making and promotion of Quadrophenia and The Kids Are Alright, as well as Roger Daltrey’s separate celluloid aspirations. The move into cinema is more worthy of their energies – and probably more exciting for them – at this stage in their career, and is certainly much more interesting than watching them wearily re-wash their old linen in public.
I’ll bet that Jimmy (the central mod character in Quadrophenia) wouldn’t have liked the nostalgic wallowing, either.
The instinctive and positive audience reaction to AC/DC was much more impressive and entertaining, confirming that good hard rock owes much to hunger. The band were determined to leave their mark on what was their largest-ever British audience, and they were aware that that could finally establish their reputation here, deservedly so. They might be a bit raw at the edges and below the belt (literally) lyrically, but they’re a tremendously tight unit, chugging along mercilessly. Guitarist Angus Young, still wearing those silly school shorts, is a limited but effective guitarist who makes up for his shortcomings by enthusiastic gymnastics, while singer Bon Scott is a provocative frontman.
There was much shuffling of feet in the guest area during the set, but the audience left no doubt as to their partiality for AC/DC. This could be just the break the band needed to finally push their point home to Britain.
By comparison, Nils Lofgren was rather more sedately successful, taking a more tactical route to the hearts of his audience.
Lofgren determinedly shrugged off his guitar-hero paranoia and concentrated on producing a set that reflected not only the fine tone he brings to his instrument, but also the versatility of his singing and the strength of his melodies. First on, he had the best sound of the day and made full use of it, although we could have done without the somersault from his trampoline at the end. It was a bit too Moscow 1980 for Wembley Stadium.
The Stranglers were the major disappointment for me. They were the band I’d come to see, and, having spent Friday evening re-acquainting myself with their three albums – Rattus Norvegicus is still a masterpiece, and Black And White keeps getting better – I expected more. From the experience of their own gig at Battersea, though, I should have known that they just don’t get on with outdoor festivals.
Their music is a lot more subtle than it may initially appear, with much chopping and changing of moods and melodies, and, in front of an audience that was growing impatient for the Who, the Stranglers weren’t given room to breathe.
Still, ‘Down In The Sewer’ and ‘Toiler On The Sea’ sounded great and two new songs, ‘Duchess’ and ‘Shah-Shah-A-Go-Go’, have whetted my appetite for the new album. I’m looking forward to seeing them indoors again.
There’s nothing else to say, except perhaps that Liverpool ran Wembley with a lot more imagination and control than the Who ever could.
© Harry Doherty, Melody Maker, 25 August 1979