It's fitting that AC/DC's show opens with a bawdy cartoon playing up the band's lewd legacy. AC/DC is cartoonish. Not KISS cartoonish. But c'mon, Angus Young plays an impish, devil-possessed schoolboy guitarist. To perfection. That's why the guy from Jefferson City can bring his 13-year-old daughter to see the show, and not feel bad when Angus is stripping off his knickers. It's over the top. It's fun. It's what rock 'n' roll should be but isn't always. It's a lost art. And it's an art AC/DC has perfected.
Last night, I had high expectations. Probably too high. I'd never seen AC/DC live. Always wanted to see them. Love their music -- so much that for at least three months, my radio dial didn't move from the 24/7 AC/DC channel on XM Radio (until the format finally switched earlier this month). So I popped my AC/DC cherry last night.
The video opens with AC/DC's rock 'n' roll train roaring down the tracks. Singer Brian Johnson appears to be on the receiving end of some oral pleasure. Schoolboy Angus shovels coal into the flames until a couple of seductresses seduce him and simulate a couple of sex acts. Yeah, it's gonna be that kind of night. But that's every night for AC/DC. Lights out. Pyro. Fire. Derailed locomotive over the stage. And there was Angus, wearing his maroon crushed velvet schoolboy suit, tearing into "Rock 'N' Roll Train."
Johnson looked like a buff grandpa, gyrating to every song. Rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young and bassist Cliff Williams hung back by the stacks of amps until they were needed for backup vocals. Backup wasn't needed with a crowd that sang along to all the classics. The new songs, not so much. Phil Rudd drummed the beats with a cigarette dangling from his mouth.
Johnson's singing voice was gruff but clear (except for some of his banter). But Johnson made one declaration clear: "We're gonna be rockin' and rollin' tonight." And they were from the start. The Young brothers' licks were sharp on "Hell Ain't a Bad Place to Be." The schoolboy sprite was frantic from the start. For 53, Angus ran around the stage like a spastic problem child, jump kicking across the stage. Sweat dripped off him, matting down his receding hair.
"Good to be back," Johnson yelled after the tight "Back in Black."
For a man who's talked retirement after this, the Black Ice Tour, Johnson looked like he was enjoying himself, smiling from under his signature cap and slapping hands with fans along the long, phallic runway. When a giant bell lowered to the stage, the 61-year-old Johnson ran and grabbed a noose hanging from it and swung around the stage. Of course, this was during the electric "Hells Bells."
"Hell's Bells" fan footage
New songs like "Big Jack" and "War Machine" seemed to fit alongside the classics. But most people saw them as time to make a beer run or bathroom break. That's more to do with lack of familiarity than lack of quality. The songs are good. Two guys sitting next to me actually high-fived when they heard "Big Jack."
But I came to hear the classics. So did most of the sold-out crowd (I bought my seat, 14th row on the floor, the day of the show). AC/DC delivered. "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" had the crowd eerily chanting the song's maniacal chorus as the Youngs' guitars roared. Meat-head anthem "Thunderstruck" again showcased Angus. I actually felt a chill. "Thunderstruck" was my high school football team's anthem in the early '90s. Still is.
"That'll get you up in the morning," Johnson said. The crowd was up, but the momentum was lost on "Black Ice." The heavy lean on the new album should've been expected. I get it. This isn't a hits tour. They're selling a new album, which I like. But for a hundred bucks, I'd rather have heard "Who Made Who" or "Rock 'N' Roll Ain't Noise Pollution."
Enough bitching. This was my favorite show since seeing The Hold Steady in Columbia in '07.
"The Jack" led to Angus playing stripper. Angus slowly teased the crowd, removing his coat and rubbing it against his crotch. It's not sexy. It was almost innocent when Angus dropped his knickers, revealing AC/DC boxers.
A double shot of new songs stalled the train. But the stripper staple "You Shook Me All Night Long" brought the party to life, and "T.N.T." had the crowd chanting in unison, "Oi. Oi. Oi."
AC/DC knows how to bring a show to a climax. "Brought an old friend along for you to meet," Johnson said as a giant, two-story (hell, maybe five) blow-up doll inflated. It was Rosie. The scantily clad 42-39-56 stripper. She straddled the locomotive and tapped her foot in time to her anthem, "Whole Lotta Rosie," as Angus and Malcolm played off each other. It was an amazing sight.
It's this kind of stuff that sets AC/DC apart from the rest of rock 'n' roll. There's no one else quite like them. And when they ripped through "Let There Be Rock," Angus dropped and convulsed and shredded and showed why he is one of the greatest guitarists of all time. It was undeniable by then to argue that AC/DC cares about anything other than having a good time. And that's what a rock show should be and AC/DC has it down. It should be fun and rowdy and raunchy and make you want to tackle someone and throw back a pint or two and hit a strip club.
If that wasn't clear in the 16 songs before, then add two more. The encore was a one-two bludgeoning of classics. Smoke plumed from the stage and Angus rose from the depths of hell, devil horns on his head and roaring the riffs of "Highway to Hell." The end came with six cannons firing during "For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)."
Yeah, it's cartoonish. But damn, AC/DC, I salute you.
"Rock 'N' Roll Train"
"Hell Ain't a Bad Place to Be"
"Back in Black"
"Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap"
"Shoot to Thrill"
"You Shook Me All Night Long"
"Whole Lotta Rosie"
"Let There Be Rock"
"Highway to Hell"
"For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)"
For reasons unknown Due to a mix-up, we were not given a photo pass for the show. The drunken crayon drawing by music editor Jason Harper that opens this review is all that is currently available, and for that, we do apologize.]