AC/DC’s Live at River Plate is the band’s first live album in 20 years, and arrives around the same time as the group has finally consented to selling its catalogue on iTunes. We can probably assume that’s no coincidence. Formed by brothers Malcolm and Angus Young in Australia in 1973, AC/DC is fast approaching the finale of its long career, and tying up those loose ends. Recent comments from vocalist Brian Johnson, in which he said he ‘hoped’ the band will release another studio album and complete a final world tour before retirement, are saddening, but inevitable. However, though AC/DC may be close to hanging up its ragged boots and battered guitars, there’s no doubt its legacy is secured. In a brief five-year period from 1976–81, AC/DC released a series of hard-edged rock ‘n’ roll classics including Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, Let There Be Rock, Highway to Hell, Back in Black and For Those About to Rock We Salute You. The influence of those albums and the band’s scrappy and powerful live attack is ingrained in both metal and hard rock.
It was way back in 1992 that AC/DC released its last live album, the less than imaginatively named but still rousing AC/DC Live. That album collected tracks recorded during the band’s 1991 monstrously successful and career re-energizing Razors Edge world tour. Live at River Plate collects material from the similarly triumphant 2009 Black Ice world tour—which saw AC/DC play to over 5 million fans in 108 cites around the globe. Although the band has been sparing in recorded output in more recent years (only four albums in the last two decades) it has been more commercially successful than ever, and you don’t get much bigger or more extravagant than Live at River Plate. Recorded during a three-night, sold-out stand in front of 200,000 Argentinean fans in Buenos Aires in December 2009, and already released as a bombastic DVD/Blu-Ray release in May 2011, the album contains 19 rip-roaring songs. Spread over two discs, it mixes classic tracks with a scattering of somewhat less than classic tracks from the band’s last studio album, 2008’s Black Ice.
There are never any surprises with an AC/DC album, live or otherwise. Stripped-back, belting hard rock is what you’d expect, and that’s exactly what you get on Live at River Plate. The album opens with “Rock and Roll Train” from Black Ice, and Johnson follows it up with a cheeky, “We don’t speak very good Spanish, but we speak rock ‘n’ roll pretty good.” The band then proceeds to tear through a series of timeless tracks, and if you’ve followed the band at all you’ll be well aware of that core set of rockers. “Back in Black”, “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”, “Hells Bells”, “You Shook Me All Night Long”, “Let There Be Rock”, “Highway to Hell” and “For Those About to Rock” all turn up, and while critics like to grumble that AC/DC has churned out the same song over and over again for the past four decades, Live at River Plate is a swaggering, stadium-sized riot of explosive fun. Obviously it’s not likely to change the mind of any killjoy naysayers, but then AC/DC probably hasn’t given them too much thought while selling its 200 million albums.
For a band whose members are now all in their late fifties and early sixties, AC/DC shows no measured signs of age on the album. The group might look thoroughly weathered these days, but Live at River Plate maintains its vibrancy and vitality over two energetic hours with ease. Rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young and bassist Cliff Williams turn in fittingly rock solid performances throughout, and in what is bound to be appealing for fans, the album features the first live recordings of drummer Phil Rudd. (Rudd’s first stint with the band ceased in the early ‘80s, though his grooving cadence was brought back when he replaced the rather more frenetic Chris Slade in the early ‘90s.) Up front, of course, is the diminutive demon himself, guitarist Angus Young, and he wails on the riffs and leads with all his customary animated abandon. And frontman Johnson’s voice sounds trachea-lacerating in its gruffness—age, in this case, adding more gravel-filled depths to his vocals.
Live at River Plate provides exactly what’s promised on the tin, and more importantly, exactly what fans have adored over the years. The DVD/Blu-Ray version might make a little more sense if you want to indulge in the stage-show antics—the elongated jamming sections on “The Jack”, the climatic soloing onslaught of “Let There Be Rock”, Angus Young’s insanely exuberant contortions, cannons exploding, Rosie inflating, and the dazzling light show etc. However, there’s no doubt this audio version captures all the excitement of the band’s performance, and like Iron Maiden and Rush, who have also recorded live albums in South America for the same reason, the frenzied, fanatical energy of the gigantic crowd is palpable. Sure, no revelations are to be found on Live at River Plate, but with AC/DC celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2013, and no tour or new album on the horizon, it serves as a grand reminder of the simple power and joy of grubby rock ‘n’ roll played through mammoth amps set on 11.