AC/DC’s greatest virtue is that they never change a winning formula, but the past year has been the most challenging to their future since Bon Scott’s death, with founder member Malcolm Young sadly suffering from dementia and drummer Phil Rudd in serious trouble with the law.
Quite apart from the human dimension, both were significant cogs in the AC/DC machine laying down the deceptively straightforward but effective grooves that allow Angus Young to weave his magic on top. Added to which their last album ‘Rock Or Bust’ seemed a somewhat perfunctory effort weighing in at 34 minutes and repeating old moves, and you could be forgiven for wondering whether the Aussie legends time is drawing to a close.
However their first UK tour in six years- a short affair with just this and another stadium show at Hampden Park in Glasgow – sold out in moments and those of us lucky to get tickets were doubly fortunate as the sense of occasion, combined with it being a Saturday and blessed with perfect summer weather, made this one big party.
An AC/DC show is always perfectly choreographed and an opening video backdrop of a moon landing, while not as spectacular as the train on the last tour, heralded the band’s arrival with the title track from the new album and I had to partially eat my words as its basic chorus was perfect for the crowd to sing along and punch the air, which cannot always be said of new material.
But after Brian Johnson, in virtually his only address to the crowd, asked us to get the party started with ‘Shoot To Thrill’ the gig flew by with a no frills parade of some of the best known and best loved rock anthems of all time, one after the other, including ‘Back In Black’, ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap’ and ‘High Voltage’. helped by an unusually clear stadium sound. The already cooking atmosphere reached fever pitch with ‘Hells Bells’ as the famous bell swung over the stage and ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.
I thought Brian’s voice was sounding rough, and let’s face it, at 67 and given his singing style and energy in working the crowd it was hardly surprising. However as he struggled to match the studio versions such was the volume with which people was singing along, for the majority that hardly seemed to matter.
The bulk of the set is now 35 years old or more, but ‘Thunderstruck’ has been long established as a classic while I was pleased that ‘Rock n Roll Train’ was retained from the ‘Black Ice’ album, its big backing vocals making it one of the more accomplished songs in the set. The new album was less heavily promoted than ‘Black Ice’ had been on that last tour with only ‘Play Ball’ early on and later on ‘Baptism Of Fire’, showing they have not lost the knack of a simple but killer riff.
Progressively shedding his schoolboy uniform, Angus Young’s hair may be thinning and straggly but he continues to be a whirling dervish of extraordinary energy charging about the stage just as much as ever, all the while playing his trademark sound with great precision and a feel that few other players could hope to match. Even better, we were spared his mooning this time. Nephew Stevie, together with Chris Slade and Cliff Williams, kept it solid and certainly to my ears the trademark AC/DC groove was intact.
The set list seems to vary little between tours but it was pleasing to hear a trio of less heralded songs that for lesser bands would have stood out in the set – ‘Sin City’, with a welcome bluesier feel ,’Shot Down In Flames’ and ‘Have A Drink On Me’- before ‘TNT’ with its ‘oi oi oi’ chants straight out of a punk gig .
As the show reached a climax, I knew exactly what would be coming but the anticipation was no less great as they even eclipsed what had gone before. Angus was in blistering form on ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’, with a giant inflatable of the eponymous pneumatic woman scratching her thigh, before ’Let There Be Rock’ became a lengthy showcase for his playing as he was suspended above on a raised platform then playfully teased the crowd on what appeared to be a never ending climax.
If this had been one sing-along party then ‘Highway To Hell’ eclipsed everything for sheer noise and camaraderie, while by this stage as darkness fell a sea of branded red devils horns illuminated the stadium. It led into the inevitable climax of the cannons emerging above the stage for the slow burning but anthemic ‘For Those About To Rock’, culminating in a spectacular explosion though it wasn’t as noisy a climax as Kiss’ performance at Download a few weeks back- perhaps something to do with noise restrictions in this suburban area?
Time will eventually catch up with AC/DC, but for now this memorable 2 hour show with all their hallmarks proved they are still the masters of the stadium gig and the crowd reaction proved that there cannot be a rock act that is more universally loved.
Review and Photos by Andy Nathan
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