AC/DC Shrug Off a Death and Rock On

Despite a hostile press and Bon Scott's death, the band has refused to give up

Angus Young and Brian Johnson of AC/DC.
Chris Walter/WireImage
October 30, 1980

There is a full moon out here tonight, and it belongs to Angus Young, the twenty-one-year-old guitarist for Australian jock-rockers AC/DC. While his older brother and rhythm guitarist Malcolm, bassist Cliff Williams and drummer Phil Rudd hammer away on a locomotive number called "Bad Boy Boogie" for 6100 raving fans in the barnlike Milwaukee Auditorium, the diminutive Young – dressed in a green-velvet school uniform complete with blazer, shorts and beanie – puts his guitar down after an ear-razing solo and starts his nightly striptease.

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The jacket goes first, then the striped tie and, finally, a white shirt soaked through with perspiration. As sweat continues to pour off his five-foot-and-then-some frame, Angus struts like a rooster across the stage, pointing to his crotch with a lewd, toothy smile. The crowd screams with delight, as if to say, yes, we want it all off. So Angus jumps up on Rudd's drum riser, turns his back to the crowd, bends over and drops his drawers. A split second of bared bottom later, Angus grabs his guitar and is off on another wild solo, as the teenage mob pressed against the stage roars its approval.

And that's only three songs into the show. Before this ninety-minute sweatfest is over, singer Brian Johnson howls his way through most of the songs on AC/DC's latest best-selling salvo, Back in Black, while Angus rides around the hall on the shoulders of a roadie, flailing away on his cordless guitar and, for his big finish, leaping off a six-foot-high speaker cabinet. During the encore, everyone gets into the act for "T.N.T.," shouting "Hoy!" in a Nuremberg-style sing-along.

"Milwaukee," barks Johnson at the end of the show, with a voice that could curl chest hairs at twenty paces, "you're fucking brilliant!"

The audience returns the compliment by buying enough AC/DC T-shirts, jerseys, caps and tour programs at the Milwaukee Auditorium concession stands to set a new house record.

"They have this intense fucking loyalty," muses Brian Johnson the next day over a late breakfast. "The kids don't want to just come. They want to be part of it. They want a T-shirt that says 'I like AC/DC, and I'll fight anybody who says different.'"

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A stocky, friendly bear of an Englishman who is rarely seen in public without a checkered flat cap tilted down over his forehead, Johnson joined AC/DC last April after the accidental death in London on February 19th of original vocalist Bon Scott. (Scott, 33, died of asphyxiation – choking on his own vomit after an all-night drinking binge – not of alcohol poisoning, as originally reported.) This is Johnson's first U.S. tour after a rocky decade fronting his own band, Geordie, and he is genuinely impressed by AC/DC's drawing power as well as the Top Twenty sales of Back in Black, the band's sixth Atlantic album. "The kids just flock to see them," he crows in the thick accent of his hometown of Newcastle.

Most reviewers do not share his or the fans' enthusiasm. From the time the Glasgow-born Young brothers – who moved to Sydney, Australia, with their parents, sister and five older brothers in 1963 – formed AC/DC seven years ago, the group has been mercilessly slagged as heavy-metal morons and their audience as tasteless cretins. despite the bad reviews, a punishing tour schedule (their current trek began in July and goes through February) and Scott's untimely death, AC/DC have continuously refused to give up, and Back in Black is their just reward. With the title and all-black cover meant as a silent tribute to Scott, the album entered the English charts at Number One and is a safe bet to match the platinum sales in America of last year's Highway to Hell.

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