With the recent death of Lemmy Kilmister (and with his passing, the end of Motörhead), AC/DC are now the last hard-rock titans around that survive and thrive even as they stubbornly refuse to evolve. While their peers have shifted their sounds as a response to musical trends, this Australian quintet continues to grind out album after album of their signature blues-heavy goodness. And fans respond by snapping those records up without a second thought, and filling stadiums around the world when AC/DC comes to town.
Some might call that lazy, as if AC/DC were going through the motions (which would be a forgivable sin after 43 years). But no one who picked up the group’s most recent album, 2014’s Rock or Bust, or who saw them Tuesday night at the Tacoma Dome as they kicked off the second leg of their North American tour would dare to agree. Even with the average age of the band’s members currently sitting at around 64 years, the five gents onstage threw themselves into a sweaty two-hour set as if they were still playing at the Bondi Lifesaver in Sydney.
AC/DC’s adherence to their formula is reassuring. Walking into the arena, you knew there were certain signifiers that the band was going to stick with. Singer Brian Johnson was going to be decked out in all black, with a pageboy cap resting on his head. Lead guitarist Angus Young would be wearing a velvet schoolboy outfit and kicking his pasty white legs in time with each riff he tore out of his Gibson SG. The giant inflatable “Rosie” doll would make an appearance, of course, as would a big AC/DC-branded bell to swing over the stage during “Hells Bells.” And the show would be capped off with loud cannon fire as the band played “For Those About to Rock, We Salute You.”
What elevated the entire night was just how much of themselves the band put into each song. Outside of the encore break, Young, his nephew Stevie (subbing for ailing rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young), longtime bassist Cliff Williams and drummer Chris Slade (a former member brought back to replace the troubled Phil Rudd) never once left the stage. They continued to lay down the law, one classic after another. Their stamina was most impressive during an extended version of “Let There Be Rock.” While Young stood on a platform that was set in the middle of the floor seats and laid into a long solo, the rest of the band kept a steady rhythm behind him that never flagged in energy.
There were also no evident backing tracks helping to sweeten the mix or other players tucked around the stage to beef up the sound. That left AC/DC fairly exposed. So when Angus Young tripped up during a solo and couldn’t keep up the speedy splay of notes that kicks off “Thunderstruck,” there was nowhere to hide. The same went for Johnson, a singer that has lost some of the power behind his delightful osprey screech of a voice. If any of this troubled the musicians at all, they never let it show. They were too busy bounding around the stage, with Johnson moving like a prizefighter during a sparring session and Young kicking and duckwalking as if it were still 1980.
The real proof of AC/DC’s strange staying power was the nearly 30,000 bodies that packed into the Tacoma Dome on a drizzly Tuesday night. The crowd ran the gamut, from old-guard rock fans in fading concert T-shirts to younger metalheads visibly enjoying some of Washington State’s legal marijuana. Scattered among them were tons of tweens and teenagers, all of them hanging on every moment of the show. They wondered aloud when the band was going to play “TNT,” and they sang along with every word of every song, even the few tracks in the set list from Rock or Bust and 2008’s Black Ice. The raw, elemental, no-bullshit sound that AC/DC brought to life back in Australia in 1973 is, against all odds, still the same — and still resonating some four decades later.
“Rock or Bust”
“Shoot to Thrill”
“Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be”
“Back in Black”
“Got Some Rock & Roll Thunder”
“Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”
“Rock ‘n’ Roll Train”
“Given the Dog a Bone”
“You Shook Me All Night Long”
“Shot Down in Flames”
“Have a Drink on Me”
“Whole Lotta Rosie”
“Let There Be Rock”
“Highway to Hell”
“For Those About to Rock, We Salute You”