Walking into the opening night of a new AC/DC tour one expects few surprises. Based on past experience, Angus Young is going to do a strip-tease during "The Jack," Brian Johnson will swing from a giant bell before "Hells Bells" and the whole thing will conclude with "For Those About To Rock, We Salute You," complete with massive firing cannons. Last night's opening gig of their 2008 world tour in Wiles-Barre, Pennsylvania — their first American tour since 2001 — was everything fans expected, which is precisely what made it so amazing. AC/DC perfected the rock concert around 1981. Why change it now?
The show began with a cartoon showing demonic, sexy women tying up Angus and hijacking a train. Needless to say, he foiled their plot seconds before the real Angus burst onstage in a maroon schoolboy outfit. They opened with their new single "Rock And Roll Train." From there they went back three decades to the Bon Scott era gem "Hell Ain't A Bad Place To Be." Brian Johnson quickly assuaged fears that the sixty-one year old chain-smoker's voice had deteriorated during the group's long hiatus. It was as wonderfully grizzled as ever, though it was often hard to make out some of the words, even when he talked to the crowd. Angus, who spent much of the evening shirtless, ran around the stage like a wind-up toy all night. During "Let There Be Rock," a giant hydraulic lift in the middle of the floor carried him far above the crowd for his solo, which concluded with him twirling around on the ground like a dog chasing his tail.
For a group who refuses to release a greatest hits album, they've always been quite keen to play a greatest hits set. "Thunderstruck" was the only song in the set released between 1981 and 2008. While this practice is irritating for groups like the Who (who consistently skip over deep cuts in favor of the upteenth rendition of "Behind Blue Eyes"), many of AC/DC's best songs are their hits. Regardless, nobody was complaining. Five songs off their new album Black Ice — which came out last week — were included in the set. They fit in seamlessly with "Back In Black" and "Highway To Hell," even as they (somewhat predictably) inspired mass bathroom breaks.
During "TNT" huge flames shot out of devilish train in the back of the stage, which was surprisingly chintzy by AC/DC standards. Before the next song, "Whole Lotta Rosie," Johnson gave the crowd some bad news: the group's gigantic blow-up, Rosie, had recently bit the dust. "The flames you just saw melted her." He wasn't kidding — she was on stage for Sunday's rehearsal gig. "We're getting a new one," he said reassuringly. The church-like ritual of an AC/DC concert cannot be disturbed, even when flames destroy an obese inflatable woman. When the group launched their last American tour in the summer of 2000, Al Gore and George W. Bush were neck and neck in the polls. A lot's changed since then, but AC/DC are exactly how we left them.
"Rock and Roll Train"
"Hell Ain't a Bad Place To Be"
"Back in Black"
"Dirty Deeds Done Dirty Cheap"
"You Shook Me All Night Long"
"Whole Lotta Rosie"
"Let There Be Rock"
"Highway to Hell"
"For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)"