If there’s one thing that can be said about AC/DC, it’s that the band is consistent. Their signature sound, built around Angus Young’s distinctive bluesy power chords, has remained the same for nearly four decades. The global fan base has never waned over the years, ensuring strong album and ticket sales whenever a new release and supporting tour was scheduled. Much of that has to do with the band sticking to its musical principles, eschewing the temptation to become something they aren’t. Though the band’s creative zenith was 1980’s Back In Black (with everything in its wake paling in comparison), AC/DC fans have always been confident in knowing what they’re going to get, before they get it. And despite fresh material and concerts coming at extended intervals, the band remains firmly entrenched on the highest rung of industry clout. Now, such a lofty perch entitles Angus & Co. to an exclusive marketing deal with Wal-Mart and a proprietary Sirius radio channel, but it also means that when the band dropped its latest effort, Black Ice, it was going to be B-I-G.
Having been out of the studio and off the road for much of the current decade, AC/DC shrewdly created the ideal supply-demand equation. Like tens of thousands of Pavlovian dogs, the band’s fan base eagerly awaited something, anything, new from their heroes. And with a critically acclaimed recording to indulge in, the Black Ice tour was the next logical step in getting a long-overdue dose of the AC/DC we’ve come to love.
26 Oct 2008: Wachovia Arena Wilkes-Barre, PA
Billed as a final dress rehearsal, the band took to the Wachovia Arena to work out any last minute kinks before firing up the busses for a global trek. Originally brainstormed as a top-secret club gig for a few hundred industry folks and fans, the show ended up as a free concert for several thousand AC/DC aficionados and VIPs. Opening with an animated clip inspired by their latest single, “Rock ‘N Roll Train”, the set found the band sounding as if they’d never been apart. Brian Johnson has lost none of his enthusiasm for performing, nor has time changed his gregarious demeanor. Malcolm Young and Cliff Williams manned their rhythmic stations, stepping up to their mics and back like precisely drilled soldiers. Phil Rudd drummed away effortlessly, keeping time as he’s done for so many years. And Angus? The “thunder from down under” may be a bit older and grayer, but he is still the master of the Gibson SG. His axe was howling from the first power chord as he worked the crowd into a frenzy with every riff.
Song after song washed down upon those in attendance, with Johnson introducing each new or classic tune with a genuine appreciation for his good fortune, and good company. And though AC/DC is a band whose output can stand on its own merits without over-produced bells, whistles or gimmicks, it wouldn’t be AC/DC without Rosie (the world’s largest blow-up doll), the Bell from Hell (hanging ominously above the stage), or the cannons saluting all of those about to rock (at set’s end). Overlooking a few vocal miscues, the only disappointment came by way of duration: the band played for exactly 60 minutes, then returned for a twin-song encore, clocking in at 75 minutes for the entire affair. But having AC/DC back, irrespective of time parameters, still made the evening a special one. Exiting into the night’s cool air, with “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” and “Highway to Hell” faintly echoing in our minds, there was a sense that the moment could not soon be eclipsed, but for one thing: Doing it all over again, two days later.
And so it went; another AC/DC fix within just 48 hours—same time, same place, and pretty much the same set list. Actually, for the official opening night of the tour, Brian and the boys added a bit more material, (“The Jack” was a definite surprise), but alas, Rosie was unable to attend. As Johnson noted with some amusement, poor Rosie had gotten a bit too close with Mr. Pyro at the prior show, and had her ample assets melted. With her absence duly noted, the performance exploded before an even larger and more raucous crowd. Security guards were outnumbered by Angus impersonators, and everyone on the floor seemed to be sporting plastic horns or generic concert blinking light necklaces. From “Back in Black” to “Thunderstruck” to “Black Ice” to “TNT”, the band found itself at that precarious past-meets-present junction; lesser artists invariably show their age and labor through as nostalgia acts, but not AC/DC. The lads cruised through the show without as much as a backwards glance.
With every day that passes, we get older along with our musical idols. And nothing is more disheartening than to witness a once-vibrant performer showing the effects of aging—physically and creatively. For AC/DC fans however, such a possibility should not be of concern. The band may be classified as baby-boomers on their birth certificates, but they still have the youthful stamina and exuberance that’s made them great. And with the 30th anniversary of Back in Black approaching in but a year’s time (along with its massive marketing potential) AC/DC’s “Rock ‘N Roll Train” may just keep rollin’ forever.