Rumors have flown all week that AC/DC is breaking up after Malcolm Young returned home to Australia to be with his family due to illness. Yesterday the band’s site announced:
“After forty years of life dedicated to AC/DC, guitarist and founding member Malcolm Young is taking a break from the band due to ill health. Malcolm would like to thank the group’s diehard legions of fans worldwide for their never-ending love and support.
In light of this news, AC/DC asks that Malcolm and his family’s privacy be respected during this time. The band will continue to make music.”
In tribute to AC/DC, I humbly offer my review of their show at The Forum, 12/6/08
It’s no big revelation that high school kids bond in cliques. The cheerleaders never cross paths with the trenchcoat mafia. My high school was small, so the punkers and the metal kids banded together over a shared love of vandalism and recreational drugs. I hated most of the metal bands the Beavis and Butthead-type kids wrote on their Peechee folders, but one band stood out – AC/DC. Mainly because of Angus Young. With his schoolboy attire and Chuck Berry duck walk, he was just so fucking punk.
I attended the AC/DC concert at the Forum Saturday with a combination of curiosity and trepidation about the cheeseball factor. And admittedly, some genuine excitement. In spite of oneself, the songs are catchy in a TV commercial kind of way. Even the most sexist lyrics are carried along by anthemic melodies that are irresistible. I dare you to play “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” and not start singing along and pumping your fist in the air without even realizing you are doing it.
We were surprised how much we missed being in the old Forum. Compared to the supposedly upscale Staples Center, it’s a much better place for a big rock show, with more comfortable seats, half-decent sound quality, and a generally cooler vibe. Anybody who has lived in Los Angeles for a while has good memories of the place. We did gasp at the $22 parking price, one reminder that these aren’t the good old days any more.
AC/DC definitely delivered musically. The band was incredibly tight and sounded very much like the albums without any obviously prerecorded assistance. The only clue that any time had passed was a barely discernable change in Brian Johnson’s vocals. He sounded a little shredded, though no worse than usual. Drummer Phil Rudd sounded great. He plays with no wasted effort, every drumbeat exactly where it needs to be.
What makes the band amazing is that they can somehow visualize what has to be done in order for rock to happen and then they do it, as efficiently as possible. Every action is absolutely necessary. There is nothing superfluous, nothing fancy. No funky vocal improvisations or slapping basslines. They get you from point A to point B through the shortest possible route, and point B is The Rock.
Even Angus Young’s over the top five-minute guitar solo is not just self-indulgence. True, he showboats, but you kind of need that one guy. Brian Johnson, in spite of being very metal, just doesn’t have enough stage presence to carry it off alone, and every band needs a court jester. Angus Young’s days of running laps may be over, but he still put out manic energy, doing Three Stooges spins on the floor of the impressive stage riser and running up to rock right in front of his own image 25 feet tall. He talents as a musician are underated. He truly is a guitar god.
Angus’ brother, rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young and bass player Cliff Williams appeared to be superglued to the side of the drum riser for most of the set. But a couple times during each song, they’d march in formation, taking three huge steps up the mic in perfect unison before hollering “TNT!” or “Done dirt cheap!” or whatever the backing vocal was. Although they may not have contributed much to the floor show, their musical contribution was elemental, adding everything that is needed but nothing that is not.
Visually, the show was a pyrotechnic orgasm. A giant prop “locomotive” drove through the wall during “Rock n Roll Train”, cannons fired during “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)”. There were flames for “TNT” and during “Highway to Hell” there were even more flames. Fire! Fire! Fire! For “Hell’s Bells”, what do you know – a giant bell for Brian Johnson to swing from. Of course they had “Rosie”, a monstrous, gigantic inflatable insult to women that manages to be slightly loveable nonetheless. They even had stagehands behind Rosie to make sure she moved perfectly in time to the music. At one point Angus Young almost completely undressed and teased the audience with a possible Full Monty. When he finally mooned, he was wearing underwear imprinted with their logo.
There was an odd mix of celebrities in the audience, including David Spade, Rick Rubin and Ron Jeremy. As I walked back from the bar into the concert hall midway through “Hell’s Bells” the popcorn and soda vendors I passed were headbanging in time to the music. As I walked up the steps, Tommy Lee was playing along on the stairway railing with his own pair of drumsticks. It made me crack up, and I looked over to share a laugh with the nearest person who was also laughing and rocking out. It was Conan O’Brien.
Maybe it was the beer. Maybe it was mob mentality. But somewhere around “Shoot to Thrill” the flashing AC/DC devil horns being sold by wandering vendors were starting to look kind of appealing. By “You Shook Me All Night Long” I was singing along at the top of my lungs, fist in the air.
The room buzzed with energy. It was like being at a high school pep rally or a tent revival. It is appropriate that the Forum has been primarily used for church services for so many years, because that was the vibe Saturday night. It didn’t matter if you were a popcorn vendor, a rock star, or even a lowly blogger, we were all one. We were all worshipping at the feet of the same god. The god of rock and roll.
Bob Lee contributed to this post. Photo by Bradley Fortner via Flickr 2009 Toronto