AC/DC’s irrepressible guitarist Angus Young turned 60 this year and still fits into his school uniform. I’ve never seen somebody looking so comfortable in a velvet two-piece blazer and shorts ensemble, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen somebody looking so comfortable commanding an audience of 70,000 or so fans using just a Gibson SG.
Young, the only remaining original band member, expelled an extraordinary amount of energy and stagecraft at the first Australian date of the Rock or Bust world tour. He spent the two hour set throwing himself around with abandon, duckstepping across the massive stage and flinging himself to the ground, all the while pouting and playing up to the audience. That his guitar playing remains technically secure while he struts about is quite impressive.
Lead singer Brian Johnson let Young lap up most of the limelight but matched him in terms of energy. His voice has lost a little of its colour, but he still knows how to deliver a lyric with all the attitude and cheek required as he demonstrated in You Shook Me All Night Long, which contains one of rock’s greatest sexual innuendos, “she told me to come but I was already there”.
There are a few new songs on the set list towards the beginning (although unlike many bands of AC/DC’s vintage, their latest album was a commercial success and plenty of fans know the new material) but soon enough the band starts rattling off hit after hit with Back in Black, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap and the rock anthem Thunderstruck all showing up pretty early.
Most of the band’s biggest songs share a similar driving beat and percussive rhythm guitar riffs (played here by Stevie Young who replaces his uncle Malcolm Young who retired last year because of his dementia). Although that can make their albums occasionally predictable, it’s exactly what’s required to keep the stadium rocking along at a steadily frantic pace.
This is spectacle on the grandest scale, executed with a surprisingly camp sensibility. AC/DC have long been a voice everywhere for (mostly) men wanting to let loose (although the fact one of the bars in the stadium was only selling light beer probably wouldn’t have helped): the equivalent of a musical stress ball. And yet there’s plenty of artistry gone into the construction of this concert as a theatrical event.
It’s as blokey as a Saturday night piss-up in Broken Hill — during You Shook Me All Night Long the camera pans across the crowd searching for women who might just flash their assets for the big screens — but it’s also a massive production governed by the oldest rules of theatricality and dramatic structure. AC/DC live is one of only a few truly camp experiences which straight men are allowed to fall for.
And while it has a scrappy spirit, there is nothing about this show which hasn’t been finely calibrated and rehearsed to within an inch of its life. The live video work is particularly exciting — and it has to be in a stadium show because you inevitably end up watching the screens more than anything else unless you’re right in front of the stage — capturing all the band members in close-up, with sweeping crane shots and crash-zooms interspersed, on two massive screens either side of the stage.
The stage also features a massive catwalk leading to a platform in the middle of the crowd. That Young and Johnson never make their way down the catwalk until the last 20 minutes of the show is the ultimate tease. When they finally did make their way into the crowd, the opening night audience erupted.
But it wasn’t until the final number of For Those About To Rock when things absolutely exploded. Throughout the song onstage cannons went off in time with the music before a spectacular fireworks display. It was pretty clear by that point that they’d delivered all they needed to. No further encore required.