AC/DC Razor-Sharp at First U.S. 'Rock or Bust' Show

Angus Young shines at rockers' spectacular North American leg-opening gig at Foxborough, Massachusetts

Angus Young of AC/DC performs in Foxboro, Massachusetts on August 22d, 2015. Credit: Matthew Shelter

Angus Young's cap flew off six songs into AC/DC's set on Saturday at Gillette Stadium, but the guitarist didn't pay it any mind — he kept shredding his way through "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap," the title track to his band's second album. Over the course of his band's spectacular set in Foxborough, Massachusetts, on the first night of the North American leg of their tour, Young would shed more and more of his iconic schoolboy outfit in the name of rock and roll, teasing the crowd for adulation while tossing off blistering solos and indelible riffs.

AC/DC's tour, which will wind its way through North America until late September, commemorates its punchy 2014 album Rock Or Bust; that album's title track opened the show after a shock of pyro and the appearance of Young, whose all-red getup contrasted with his bandmates' more muted tones and signaled him as the show's zig-zagging, duck-walking, ferocious sparkplug.

The Australian act's strength comes from their being a well-oiled machine that pumps out a particularly potent take on bloozy rock — sing the chugging riff to the Bon Scott tribute "Back in Black" in a crowd and you'll probably get at least one person joining in by its eighth note — with a hedonistic mind-set that sometimes tips over into admiration of the devil. (Light-up devil horns emblazoned with the band's lightning-bolt logo were on sale at the merch booth, and enough people bought them that Gillette Stadium's upper sections glowed red.) It's a heady combination that gets audience members in the mood to sing, cheer, and toast along, and the band's taut, hit-packed 20-song set in Foxborough delivered most of the band's biggest hits alongside Rock Or Bust tracks that fit in seamlessly.

For this tour, Young, vocalist Brian Johnson, and bassist Cliff Williams are joined by Stevie Young on rhythm guitar (filling in for Angus's brother Malcolm, who retired from music after being diagnosed with dementia last year) and Chris Slade on drums. The band, surrounded by Marshall stacks, was in razor-sharp form, and Williams and Stevie Young's strident backing vocals provided a back-of-the-barroom counterpoint to Johnson's weathered growl.

AC/DC's appeal as a big-tent rock act comes, in large part, from its ability to scale. The building blocks of songs like the party-ready "Have A Drink On Me" and the much-beloved "You Shook Me All Night Long" — not just the chunky riffs and the anthemic choruses but the rock and roll swagger — can, thanks to the economical way AC/DC employs them, be blown up in such a way that they still feel pointed, and can make an effects-spangled show in a 68,000-capacity stadium feel like a gig in a narrow, crowded dive bar.

While AC/DC is an extremely effective rock band, the real star of the night was Angus Young, whose tireless playing fed off the crowd's energy, and who shed more of his uniform as he threw himself even deeper into his soloing. (During "Sin City," he whipped off his tie and used it to assist his playing.) When the video screens flanking the stage cut to him, the focus would inevitably fall on his hands, which were blown up to larger-than-life-size — though given the way in which he performed the blindingly fast riff that propels the 1990 track "Thunderstruck" and the runaway-train ending of "T.N.T.," that sense of grandiosity was more than deserved.

The band's main set ended with the creation story "Let There Be Rock," which showed off the set's eye-popping light show when Johnson yelled "Let there be light." But Johnson's proclamation "let there be guitar" was the key to what would transpire next; Angus Young took it upon himself to shimmy down the catwalk while playing, allowing him a setting for a solo that was as technically proficient as it was theatrical. He took breaks from attacking his guitar to playfully signal to the audience that he wanted more cheers; his soloing intensified with each passing moment, and when the platform eventually did elevate it was thrilling, giving him a proper stage to fall to the floor and keep going as confetti burst around him.

The solo went on even after all the confetti had drifted to the ground, and even after Young ran offstage he wasn't done. Instead, he reappeared above the drum risers to keep on going, to keep goading the crowd into cheering him on by offering up a single note; that segued into something faster, louder, more everything. The way AC/DC turned the long-storied rock-show ritual of the guitar solo turned into the main set's big finish served as a testament not just to Young's immeasurable talent, but to his stature among rock's greats — as both a player and a showman.

The encore began with the strutting "Highway To Hell" (Young wore devil horns to honor the occasion) and closed out with the siren call "For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)," during which cannons were brought out and shot off on Johnson's command. "We salute you Boston; we salute you New England; we salute you, United States of America," Johnson bellowed before a stupefying fireworks display, which signaled the end of the night, and the beginning of AC/DC's latest effort to bring pugilistic, boastful rock and roll to North America one more time.

Set list
"Rock or Bust"
"Shoot to Thrill"
"Hell Ain't a Bad Place to Be"
"Back in Black"
"Play Ball"
"Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap"
"High Voltage"
"Rock N' Roll Train"
"Hells Bells"
"Baptism by Fire"
"You Shook Me All Night Long"
"Sin City"
"Shot Down in Flames"
"Have a Drink on Me"
"T.N.T. "
"Whole Lotta Rosie"
"Let There Be Rock"
"Highway to Hell"
"For Those About to Rock (We Salute You) "