February 26, 2016
AC/DC will never, ever quit. That was the message implicit in Friday night’s Toyota Center performance, the latest date in an endless world tour that’s been up and running since last April already. The planet’s hardest-rocking band didn’t throw in the towel when singer Bon Scott died back in 1980, they didn’t pack it up when songwriter Malcolm Young retired because of illness in 2014 and they barely even flinched when drummer Phil Rudd was convicted of drug possession and “threatening to kill” last year. It seems Angus and the lads have every intention of dying onstage, and with a global army of fans pledged to be with them until the very last moment, why wouldn’t they?
To be sure, there were more cracks than ever in AC/DC’s invincible image Friday. Malcolm Young and Phil Rudd are irreplaceable, and even their fill-ins are so old and ugly that they’re kinda cute. Singer Brian Johnson, who knows a thing or two about replacing somebody, can’t hit all the notes he once could, and guitar god Angus Young is now modest enough in his old age to keep his shirt on. But together, they still crackle with such blinding wattage that none of that mattered. Hell, even the pre-show soundcheck was enough to send shivers up spines. This was AC fuckin’ DC, man, and the home of the Rockets was packed to the rafters and ready for liftoff.
The band led off with “Rock or Bust,” the namesake single of both the tour and AC/DC’s most recent album. It’s a good tune, but given their extensive catalog of classics, it amounted to little more than a tease. Even so, the mere sight of Angus duckwalking down the catwalk in his blue velour schoolboy costume was enough to have the entire arena up and screaming their heads off. Then, the band hit another gear for “Shoot to Thrill,” the first of several cuts from Back in Black, and we were suddenly in the thick of prime AC/DC. The rock-solid rhythm section clustered in a tight formation close to the drum riser, leaving Angus and Johnson with the run of the stage. They wouldn’t let up all night, and absolutely nobody was asking them to.
As thousands of red devil horns blinked away from the cheap seats on down, the Australian hall-of-famers tore through what’s become a pretty standard set for them. Why mess with perfection? “You Shook Me All Night Long” was in place, just as it should be, and so were the big prop set pieces for “Hell’s Bells” and “Whole Lotta Rosie.” “Thunderstruck” bled right into “High Voltage,” really hammering that electrical motif home with the sellout crowd screaming right along. Angus took one of his lengthy signature solos during “Let There Be Rock” from a pneumatic lift at midcourt, and at its climax, confetti exploded everywhere. Every song concluded with a mighty trash-can ending. It was spectacular.
There were some nice surprises in the set, too. “Given the Dog a Bone,” rarely heard live over the decades, became a swaggerin’ anti-PC anthem, and “Sin City” served as the group’s only nod to the Bon Scott era that wasn’t a certified mega-classic. But the mega-classics were so good that it was easy to forget that nearly all this stuff had been released prior to the Clinton administration. AC/DC is old and gray, but no one went home on Friday with memories of how ragged Brian Johnson’s voice sounded on “Highway to Hell.” Everyone went home remembering how cool it was that the singer wore a cowboy hat on Go Texan Day, and how badly their ears were ringing after the traditional cannonade of “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You).”
That’s if they remembered anything at all. Based on the testimony of the untold millions of empty beer cups littering the arena as the lights came up, it was a hard-drinking crowd, and the taxicabs were doing brisk business outside. Most of those cabbies probably hope that AC/DC continues on forever, and who can blame them? Don’t we all?
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Personal Bias: More of a Beavis than a Butt-Head.
The Crowd: Ecstatically rowdy.
Overheard in the Crowd: “Can you get me another beer? Actually, two!”
Random Notebook Dump: It’s been 40 years, and still no one else has figured out how to rock as hard as AC/DC.