High Volume, High Voltage
11 Mar 2003: Roseland Ballroom New York
For devoted AC/DC fans, what could be better than seeing their heroes perform in a packed football stadium? How about seeing their heroes rock a 3000+ SRO club and blow the roof off in the process? Such was the case recently as the lads from Down Under played a special one night gig at NYC’s Roseland Ballroom. Fresh off the previous evening’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, AC/DC took center stage and proved that middle age has not slowed them a bit. As this was a record company event rather than a tour date show, some in attendance may have anticipated an abridged version of the group’s usual “big venue” performance. What concert goers got was a blistering 90 minute set, as Australia’s best known export guided the faithful through a virtual history tour of its expansive song catalogue.
Tickets holders who arrived early were forced to endure a rather inauspicious start to their outing. An apparently nameless and quite forgettable opening band appeared at roughly 8:00 p.m., and toiled through a handful of songs that were increasingly horrendous. Instead of appreciating his proverbial moment in the sun and engaging the crowd with friendly banter, the group’s lead singer chose instead to prance about and insult those down in front with various jibes and criticisms. Perhaps underestimating the spirit of AC/DC’s fans, this record company darling was quickly met by a sea of middle fingers and angry chants of “You suck! Fuck off!” It is safe to say that this “band” will be hard pressed to experience a tougher, or more unappreciative crowd.
The intermission saw the chorus of “Angus! Angus!” steadily grow, reverberating off the walls and ceiling of the historic dancehall. As the energy level reached a fevered pitch, AC/DC hit the stage at 9:00 p.m. sharp and opened the night with “Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be” from the album Let There Be Rock. In a scant few minutes time, the die had been cast and things only got better from that point on. With barely a moment to catch their collective breath after the opening salvo, fans went wild upon hearing the first crunching power chords from concert staple “Back in Black”. He may be small in stature, but Angus Young remains a giant among hard rock guitarists. The signature sound drawn from his Gibson SG is amazing, not only in its bone bashing precision, but also for its consistency; it simply has not changed one iota over time.
Moving through the set with ease, the band pulled a few surprises from their bag of tricks. Three songs from the Powerage album were featured: “Gone Shootin’”, “Rock and Roll Damnation”, and “What’s Next to the Moon”. As these tunes are not as readily heard on radio or in concert as much of AC/DC’s other material, loyalists got to hear something special. Set list regulars “Stiff Upper Lip”, “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”, and the ground-shaking “Thunderstruck” were played effortlessly, and Brian Johnson’s metal shriek sounded as good as it ever has.
As was to be expected, material from the album Back In Black anchored the night’s festivities. Rousing renditions of “Shoot to Thrill”, “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution”, and “You Shook Me All Night Long” were overshadowed only by the ominous tolling (and lowering from the ceiling), of the Bell from Hell, and the subsequent playing of “Hell’s Bells”.
Additional set material included “If You Want Blood” and the title track from Highway to Hell, “T.N.T.” and “The Jack” from High Voltage, “Hard As a Rock” off of Ballbreaker, and the uproarious “Whole Lotta Rosie” from Let There Be Rock.
At the very least, the Roseland gig proved several things: First, AC/DC have gotten better with age. The rhythm section of drummer Phil Rudd and bassist Cliff Williams remains rock solid; Malcolm Young ably supports his brother with some outstanding backing guitar work; Brian Johnson still belts out tunes with passion; Angus Young continues to dent eardrums while partaking in his trademark antics of writhing about on the floor and dropping his knickers mid-set. Second, after thirty years of recording and touring the world, the band has lost none of their enthusiasm for what they do. Wherever AC/DC play, fans can count on getting the best bang for their buck. Third, their material remains as timely and dynamic as ever. Songs from the Bon Scott days sit comfortably amongst more current tunes, irrespective of whether they are grounded in growling blues riffing or full blown metal bombast.
Simply stated, AC/DC enter their fourth decade without having lost a beat, and now enjoy a deserved place amidst other music luminaries in the Hall of Fame. Those fortunate enough to see the group up close and personal at Roseland experienced a phenomenal performance, and should cherish the moment. It doesn’t get any better.
// Notes from the Road
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