"I hope you guys like rock & roll," AC/DC singer Brian Johnson told the crowd at Coachella last night, "because that's all we do." The band, in the headlining slot at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California, performed 20 songs and, as Johnson promised, did not try to vary their road-tested formula. The two-hour set, full of songs that split the difference between "simple" and "primal," was almost too much of a good thing, but served as a welcome return to form for the Australian group's first concert in six years.
The band has had two personnel changes since their last tour: rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young, who has retired with dementia, was replaced by his nephew Stevie Young, while the band's former drummer Chris Slade has taken the seat of Phil Rudd, who is dealing with various legal charges in New Zealand. Remaining was bassist Cliff Williams, who with his low-key but funky playing through the night, demonstrated why he is the band's most underrated member: he gives them their swing.
Also remaining were lead singer Brian Johnson (67 years old) and lead guitarist Angus Young (60). Johnson, 35 years after he joined the band, still seems delighted and amazed to be onstage with them, as if he had sent in the winning postcard in a "Sing for AC/DC" sweepstakes. Young is the band's star and primary showman, always performing in his short-pants schoolboy outfit, no matter how creepy it gets. In a concession to his age, the current bright-red version of the outfit appears to be made of red velour with a stretchy waistband. But Young still pulls out his trademark moves, playing solos with his left hand so he can pump his right fist in the air and doing a (largely upright) duckwalk across the stage. While many lead guitarists try to sell the solos they are playing with their facial expressions, Young has deploys his legs instead, vibrating them to show his musical intensity.
The career-spanning set list covered most of the band's defining songs, plus some old concert favorites such as "The Jack." It also included three songs from their new album, Rock or Bust, demonstrating that the Australian supply of double entendres has not yet been depleted (and that in a pinch, AC/DC can get by with single entendres). The show didn't stint on the props: a giant bell for a ragged performance of "Hells Bells," a battery of cannons for the thrilling show-closer "For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)," and a giant inflatable woman for a solid version of "Whole Lotta Rosie."
For the closer of the main set, "Let There Be Rock," Angus Young was escorted out to the middle of the crowd, and played guitar on top of a hydraulic lift that elevated him at a stately pace (proving the maxim that it's a long way to the top if you want to rock & roll). Once there, he executed another one of his trademark moves, falling to the ground and flailing around while playing a guitar solo. By the end of the show, Young had visibly bloody knees: as usual, he sacrificed his body for rock & roll.