Be it when they sold out Madison Square Garden on their last tour, or when they played a fan club-only gig at Roseland, or when they pummeled their industry-filled and peer-speckled induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at the Waldorf Astoria (in front of members of The Clash and The Police, no less), when AC/DC comes to New York City, it’s an event. In the past 15 years at least, each time they’ve come to town, they’ve given their audience a thrilling night out, with a healthy dose of tinnitus as a souvenir. And every time they go away, it seems like a lifetime before their return.
So it was a joy to see this new Rock or Bust tour rumored, and then finally announced. But with things seemingly falling apart inside AC/DC— before the tour and new album release, we learned that founder Malcom Young is suffering from dementia, and had retired permanently; and drummer Phil Rudd was ousted amid stranger-than-fiction murder allegations—the cynical side of me started to wonder if the band was more a three-legged version of its former, mighty self, maybe even on its last tour.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. Last night’s gig at Met Life (formerly Giants) Stadium, was a life-affirming thing of rock and roll beauty, an ear-shredding decree by AC/DC that they’re long from done—a night of non-stop three-chord, gang vocal, blinking merch table devil horn fun.
To their credit, when Angus Young, Brian Johnson and bassist Cliff Williams were forced to replace Malcom Young and Phil Rudd, they chose wisely, literally keeping it in the family: welcoming guitarist and nephew Stevie Young and drummer Chris Slade back into the band (both had previously been members of AC/DC, Stevie as Malcom’s temporary replacement in the ‘80s, and Slade as a full time member in the late 1980s and early 1990s).
The bald-headed, stone-faced, 68-year-old Slade, a music biz vet who played with Tom Jones in the ‘60s and The Firm and David Gilmour in the ‘80s, was a familiar rock. So no surprise that he was flawless, seemingly pigment-less grim reaper carved out of white marble bashing away at the drums. But live, in front of a stadium full of people, and with much more to prove, 58-year-old Stevie was a revelation who sang and played with the spirit of a punk, belting out backing vocals and banging out the band’s famous rhythms as if his life depended on it. Sweat pouring off him, his leg bouncing nonstop, Stevie, almost improbably, is like a coke-snort of youth for the band that is now a stadium juggernaut (and he’s only two years younger than Angus).
If the lines on their faces or their receding hair lines told a different story, Angus and Brian Johnson seemed impervious to age. They were perfect, all night, Angus inexhaustibly darting back and forth across the massive stage and rising above the audience on a hydraulic lift during the “Let There Be Rock” guitar solo, Johnson’s voice still, shockingly, intact after decades of screaming out he and Bon Scott’s vocals.
There was pyro and fireworks and whereas a band’s ascent to stadium act usually sucks for the audience, seeing AC/DC like this makes sense. Not just because of the extra room for pyro or fireworks, but because AC/DC live is a party that probably works better in stadiums (which they’ve been filling in other countries for years). Even passing flights landing at nearby Newark International seemed to be getting in on the action, passing over seemingly low. I could nit-pick, and complain that my favorite (“Jailbreak”) or others (“Who Made Who”) weren’t played, but nearly every great riff and cheeky lyric was delivered from the stage, from “A Whole Lotta Rosie” (replete of course with the inflatable version of the famous gal herself towering over Slade’s kit) to the night-ending second encore, “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You),” accompanied of course, with glorious cannon fire.
Costumed and soaking through his shirt, Angus is the undisputed star, and Johnson his other half, the loveable master of ceremonies. But, oddly, for me at least, beyond the bombast, fire and merchandise, the lasting image of last night is of Stevie Young playing his heart out, and the recognition of how just when you think it’s over, the ever-fascinating story of AC/DC continues to evolve, getting more interesting every time the band reappears.
Photos by Wes Orshoski