When I was growing up in the 70s, I was all about Kiss. I was enamored with them like most people were at the time. By the time the Kiss “Unmasked” album came out in 1980 I was done with them and had moved on. The next band I discovered in my youth was AC/DC.
“Back in Black” was just released, but not the first AC/DC album I had heard. “Let There Be Rock” and “Dirty Deeds” were the first albums I listened to, quickly followed by “High Voltage” and AC/DC instantly became my new favorite band. By the time “For Those About to Rock” came out in 1981, I had moved on to heavier things but always held onto to my love for AC/DC.
They were just a simple gritty rock n roll garage band above everything else. Even with Angus Young’s schoolboy outfit, the band never had any real gimmick and everyone else in the band was just jeans and t-shirt. They only had their music to speak for them and amongst all the trends and changes in style AC/DC has endured for the last 40+ years. Even though they had some line-up changes they have never taken a break or had a farewell tour.
Recently AC/DC has met some roadblocks in their career, rhythm guitarist, songwriter, founding member and brother to Angus Young left the band in 2014 after being diagnosed with dementia. Original drummer Phil Rudd was fired last year after being convicted of drug charges and death threats and most recently vocalist Brian Johnson had to stop playing live last year or risk permanent hearing loss. While all that might stop some bands, it barely slowed down AC/DC. They got a new drummer, replaced Malcolm with their nephew Stevie Young and hired a singer to fill out the rest of the tour dates with non-other than Axl Rose from Guns and Roses fame.
When AC/DC first started out they had a powerful frontman by the name of Bon Scott, the man was the epitome of a rockstar, he looked and acted the part and had the perfect rock and roll voice to front the band. They released five classic albums with Bon Scott and the band was at the peak of their performance when Bon tragically died of alcoholism shortly after the release of their legendary “Highway to Hell” album. Bon Scott left big shoes to fill, most bands would have probably said we had a good run and called it quits or found a new singer and slowly fall into obscurity. Not AC/DC.
Enter Brian Johnson to take the reigns with a screeching voice like no one had ever heard before and in 1980 they released probably their biggest album ever “Back in Black”, a tribute to their fallen comrade. Brian sounded nothing like Bon Scott nor did he try imitate him, he did his own thing and lightning struck twice for this electrical band and they found a new front man and a new lease on their careers. Which brings us to now.
With Brian Johnson unable to tour any longer by doctors orders (and who can blame him when the alternative is permanently losing your hearing), how the hell do you replace a singer for the third time in your career and have him be just as impactful. To everyone’s shock and amazement, AC/DC announced that Axl Rose would be filling in on vocals. Love him or hate him, and a lot of people hate him, it was the truth. Now Axl is no slouch in the vocal department when Guns and Roses released their first album, you could definitely hear some Brian Johnson in Axl’s screeching. But the fans were divided, how could anyone replace their beloved Brian Johnson, but then again how could anyone replace their beloved Bon Scott.
Now I have been an AC/DC fan since 1980, but at that point in time no one was going to take me to go see an AC/DC concert. By the time I was able to go to concerts on my own, AC/DC was releasing albums that I had no interest in. So I never got to see them live, though I probably should have went because I am sure they did a lot of older songs in their sets.
Once I heard the news of Brian Johnson leaving and being replaced by Axl Rose I thought, well there goes my chance of ever seeing AC/DC and honestly I had some regrets. But low and behold as the fates would have it, because you never know what to expect in life, I wound up with tickets to see AC/DC at Madison Square Garden in a suite no less. Axl Rose be damned there was no way I was going to pass this opportunity up.
So how was the show?
I have to say I was very impressed but found it a little odd as well. First off the sound was great, everything was clear and right on point. But really Axl is what we want to know about most right, how was he? They opened with “Rock or Bust” a song I was not familiar with at all since it was from their later catalog but they quickly moved into “Shoot to Thrill”, “Hell Ain’t a Bad place to Be” and “Back in Black”.
First impression was Axl can definitely do the Brian Johnson songs, not sure if I am sold on the Bon Scott stuff. By the time they get to half way through their set and the giant bell gets lowered and rings the intro to “Hell’s Bells” and quickly goes into “Giving the Dog a Bone”, “If you Want Blood”, “Live Wire” and “Sin City” I change my tune thinking Axl actually probably can pull off the Bon Scott songs better then Brian Johnson did. Let’s admit it, Axl has more of a vocal range than Brian Johnson. Johnson sang one way all the time, so when it came to the Bon Scott era songs, instead of singing them like Brian Johnson, Rose sounded much closer to singing them the way Bon had.
They really put some old songs in their set list that they probably haven’t done in forever like “Shot Down in Flames”, “Whole Lotta Rosie” and “Riff Raff”. Like I Said I was impressed. They did the obvious “Highway to Hell” with flames shooting from the top of the stage and the final song of the night “For Those About to Rock” brought out six cannons firing through out the song.
Want to talk about loud? You haven’t experienced a deafening sound until you’ve heard six cannons going off repeatedly inside an arena. Everyone was saying “What?” “What?” after the show.
All in all a great show, a great time. When not singing Axl stood towards the back of the stage letting Angus do his thing, never fighting for the spotlight and saying very few words between songs. He was a hired gun, came and did his job the best he could and had no attitude or ego.
Now the Odd.
At their core AC/DC is a classic rock n roll garage band. I understand they are big and playing the Garden and that constitutes a big stage, but really AC/DC sounds like they belong on a smaller stage.
The drums were in the back and flanked by the bassist on one side and rhythm guitarist on the other. They were literally right next to the drums and didn’t move. When it was time for backing vocals they’d take a few steps forward sing their part and walk back to the X on the floor where they originally stood. Axl as I said came out and walked around when singing, but when he wasn’t signing, he’d hover towards the back as well. And there was a good reason for all this, that maniac Angus Young continuously ran all over the stage for the entire two and half hours they played, non stop, up and down, constantly at 62 years old.
At this point AC/DC is really just the Angus Young show. All eyes are on him, he is the center of attention, the only original member of the band and the one that won’t let this die. AC/DC might be the one of the last rock n roll bands and Angus is definitely one of the hardest most energetic performers in the game today, giving the audience everything that they came to see and expect.
So while it might have taken me 30+ years to finally see AC/DC and almost no one in the band is original anymore. After last nights performance, I have to say I am very glad I went, I had an excellent time, they sounded great and overall the songs were perfect and I was lucky to be able to hear some tunes that have only recently made their way back into their set list. AC/DC we salute you indeed.
Oh and if you ever have a chance to go see a concert in a suite at Madison Square Garden, do it. I don’t care if Justin Timberlake is playing. it is worth it, that is an awesome experience all unto itself.