As crazy as it seems, AC/DC – or at least what’s left of it – are just two and a half weeks away from launching a European stadium tour with Axl Rose on lead vocals. Guitarist Malcolm Young had to leave the group following their 2010 tour due to dementia, drummer Phil Rudd had serious legal issues that legally prevented him from leaving New Zealand, and frontman Brian Johnson has hearing problems that make touring impossible. One might think that last blow would be enough to bring the Rock or Bust Tour to a screeching halt, but Angus Young and Cliff Williams seem determined to see this thing through to the end. They also seem determined to do it without uttering a word to the press other than carefully constructed press releases, and Axl Rose hasn’t made himself available either. This strategy has led to all sorts of lingering questions about the bizarre state of AC/DC, not to mention Guns N’ Roses. Here are four of them.
1. Is Brian Johnson really OK with all this?
When AC/DC announced the postponement of their tour dates on March 7th, they merely said that the shows would be performed at some future point, “likely with a guest vocalist.” It was quite the bombshell to drop casually in middle of a rather dry press release. Johnson may be a replacement vocalist himself, but he’s been in the group for 36 years. He’s on Back in Black, for God’s sake. This is not like Foreigner or Yes, where some random guy is singing that few people in the audience can even name, let alone care about.
The press release didn’t contain a single word from Johnson himself, though his good buddy Jim Breuer said the singer felt “kicked to the curb.” The comedian later frantically walked back those comments, but they seemed to confirm suspicions that the public wasn’t hearing all sides of this story. Right around this time, photographers captured Axl Rose walking out of the same rehearsal hall as Angus Young and Cliff Williams. It was presumed Axl might sing with the group at a few gigs, but on Saturday night – right before Guns N’ Roses played Coachella, and brought out Angus Young to guest on two songs – they announced that Rose would be fronting AC/DC at all the remaining shows on the European and U.S. tours.
“AC/DC band members would like to thank Brian Johnson for his contributions and dedication to the band throughout the years,” they wrote in a statement. “We wish him all the best with his hearing issues and future ventures.” Seriously? That reads like an accounting firm wishing a fond farewell to a retiring CPA, not one of the biggest rock bands on the planet parting ways with their singer of more than a third of a century.
It turns out Johnson didn’t think they handled it well either, and on Tuesday, he put out his own statement through the group’s PR firm. “I don’t believe the earlier press releases sufficiently set out what I wanted to say to our fans,” he wrote, “or the way in which I thought it should be presented.” He went on to explain in great detail exactly why his hearing condition left him unable to carry on with the band, but across a 628-word statement, he never says that carrying on this tour without him is a good idea, even though he thanks Angus and Cliff for their support and says he will “always be with AC/DC at every show in spirit, if not in person.” Is Brian completely on board with the “let Axl finish the tour and we wish Brian well with his future ventures” plan? We have no idea.
2. Will Brian still sing with AC/DC in the studio?
Brian made it very clear in his statement that he’s not retiring. “My doctors have told me that I can continue to record in studios and I intend to do that,” he wrote. “For the moment, my entire focus is to continue medical treatment to improve my hearing.” There have only been two AC/DC records in the past 15 years, and they are primarily a live act these days, so their future as a recording unit is hardly a pressing issue. But as of now, we have no idea if they’re setting up a mid-Sixties Beach Boys situation in which their own Brian didn’t tour, but fully participated in the records. Again, this was left vague.
3. How does this impact Guns N’ Roses?
Axl Rose just launched one of the biggest reunion tours in rock history. The man is 54 (just five years younger than Robert Plant at the 2007 Led Zeppelin reunion show), and he broke his foot during his first show back with Slash. He sounded absolutely incredible at the Las Vegas concerts (perhaps because his condition prevented him from running around and getting winded), but he only has so much energy to expend. Is this really the best time to be fronting two separate mega bands on two separate mega world tours? Shouldn’t he put all his energy and focus into his real band? Doesn’t he need time for his foot to heal? Do the other guys in Gun N’ Roses feel this is a good idea? Do they now need to make plans around the AC/DC schedule? Vice versa? Nobody knows.
4. What happens after the Rock or Bust Tour?
It will probably be great fun for Axl to sing with his heroes for a few months this year, but it’s hard to imagine he’s going to stick around much beyond that. Will AC/DC simply cease to exist when the tour wraps? Will they bring in a new singer? Might Brian come back if his hearing condition improves? Do they even have any of this figured out, or are they taking things one step at a time? We’re going to finally venture a guess here and say they probably have as little clue about this as we do. In the meantime, Axl Rose is about to have a very busy summer.