by Mitch Goldman
And it's hard to imagine just how AC/DC, basic blues-rockers with a serious itchto party, made the change to become one of the biggest, most revered hard rockacts on the planet, though it's due in no small part to the success of 1980'sBack in Black. AC/DC's sixth studio album was the first to featuresinger Brian Johnson (who replaced original shrieker Bon Scott, dead in 1980 ofalcohol poisoning), and continued to develop the staggeringly intuitivelead/rhythm guitar combo of the brothers Young (Angus gets the spotlight as leadplayer and all-around onstage maniac, but brother Malcolm's riffs and rhythms areat the true heart of the band's staying power). Moreover, Back inBlack has added at least four tunes to the cultural heart of modern rock;songs like "Back in Black," "Shoot to Thrill," "Hell's Bells" and the huge hit"You Shook Me All Night Long" are every bit as recognizable to kids weaned onalbum-rock radio as "Brown Sugar" and "Stairway to Heaven." Despite their facilesurface, AC/DC's tunes have an irrestible hook that keeps them enduring longafter the moment has passed.
Of course, the success of Back in Black, both commercially andcritically, has not been duplicated. There've been some great lp's along theway...1981's For Those About to Rock came closest toBlack's staying power, and the occasional single like "Heatseeker"and "Who Made Who" have kept the band on the road and on the air. Twenty yearsafter their first records were released in the US, AC/DC have hit the road again,for the first time in nearly five years, to support the Rick Rubin-producedBallbreaker, their best record since For Those About toRock, nearly fifteen years ago.
Ballbreaker has some great, soon-to-be-classic tunes, like thesingle "Hard as a Rock." Like all their music, its appeal is based on theinterplay between Malcolm's guttural rhythm riffs and Angus's melodic,blues-based licks and solos. Another potentially exciting thing about theBallbreaker tour is the return of original drummer Phil Rudd, wholeft the group in '83 (Cliff Williams, with the band since '78, continues onbass). The Ballbreaker show in Atlanta's Omni (nearly sold out)began with a short Beavis and Butthead cartoon, followed by a huge wrecking ball(the album cover image) swinging over the stage to demolish a brick wall (made ofstyrofoam, of course!) that covered the amps and the drums (did they steal thisstage effect from the old Pink Floyd Wall show?). After the sillydramatics of this opening, the fivesome hit the stage and tore through "Back inBlack." Thick, powerful chords (and a slightly thin sounding rhythm section mix)accompanied all the tunes; the repertoire was played with a balance ofworkmanlike accuracy and genuine enthusiasm. While many of these tunes have beenin the band's stage show for nearly two decades, they still approach them withthe spirit of a young bunch of guys who just get together to jam.
And the show moved from song to song, showcasing the impressive list of hits (andnear-hits) that comprise the AC/DC body of work; songs like "Shot Down inFlames," "Down Payment Blues," and "Girls Got Rhythm" (all from the Bon Scottera) made their first appearance in the set in years, and standards like"Shoot to Thrill," "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap," and "Whole Lotta Rosie" soundedas fresh as they did in the heyday of hard rock. Sure, there were some obviousomissions (no "Jailbreak," "MoneyTalks" or "Sin City," and leaving out "Who MadeWho" is just bad thinking!). But overall, it's hard to complain about thematerial; 21 songs in over two hours is plenty of rock for your buck.
But what would an AC/DC set be without Angus and his silly theatrics? During"Boogie Man" (the obligatory slow blues number from Ballbreaker)Angus did his now-standard striptease wherein he moons the crowd (and though it'ssilly to watch a forty year old guy, dressed in a schoolboy's uniform, go throughthis kind of burlesque, there's something so unpretentious about it that it'spositively charming); during most of the songs he romped around on the stage's"ego ramps," at times spinning on his back while soloing; at the end of theset-closing "Let There Be Rock" Angus was carried through the aisles on the arenafloor, on the shoulders of a security guard, while soloing (and being politelytouched by the thousands of faithful whom he passed); and generally, every tunewas highlighted by Angus's high voltage, full-throttle stage antics. BrianJohnson got in on the act a bit himself; very mobile during all of the songs, hejumped up and swung from a huge bell during the intro to (what else?) "Hell'sBells," and for the set finale, he stalked the stage while six cannons roaredduring "For Those About to Rock."
AC/DC haven't changed (or even grown!) one whit in the fifteen years sinceBack in Black made them international stars, but neither they northeir huge audience see a need for change. You get what you expect from theseboys...high energy, good time music, great live playing, fun onstage visuals, andone of the best guitar duos in rock. Why mess with success?
Back in Black
Shot Down in Flames
Girls Got Rhythm
Cover You in Oil
Shoot to Thrill
Boogie Man Ball
Blues-> The Jack
Hard as a Rock
Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
You Shook Me All Night Long
Whole Lotta Rosie
T.N.T.-> Let There Be Rock
Hail Caesar Highway to Hell For Those About to Rock, We Salute You