[6 November 2007]
A day after their July 30, 2003 “Toronto Rocks” performance before roughly half a million people at Downsview Park, AC/DC guitarist Angus Young told me in an interview the group was then working on some new songs for an album that would probably be released the following year. However, fans still wait for that batch of new material and, with that, possibly another tour.
And while people would love to see the group in action again, as they were when they basically blew the Rolling Stones off that same Toronto stage four years ago, Father Time can be a real pain in the ass. With Brian Johnson having just turned 60 and Angus Young now 52, that raspy voice of the former and the knobby knees of the latter aren’t on the upswing. Fortunately, AC/DC came during the era of video technology, so even if they don’t hit the road again, they will be remembered, as they should be, on this new two-disc anthology (three-disc if you want to fork over some more dough).
Plug Me In has some footage which previously appeared on the VHS video (remember VHS?) AC/DC: Let There Be Rock as well as 2004’s Toronto Rocks, but the real gems here are those with the band’s original lead singer Bon Scott. Early television appearances show a group that were years ahead of their time playing to a crowd that had no idea what to make of them. A good example of this is “It’s A Long Way To The Top If You Wanna Rock ‘N’ Roll” with Scott playing the bagpipes while a youthful Angus Young, decked out fully in British school boy attire (down to the brown leather book bag on his back) does his signature foot stomps, two with the left leg, two with the right, repeat for the next 30 years.
The early material’s quality isn’t the best at times, with some video portions a bit grainy but here they seem to hit gold, especially the gorgeous and hellacious cover of Chuck Berry’s “School Days” from a high school gig in 1976. Young has always said Berry was his idol and while the volume is increased substantially, his playing is often very similar to Berry’s hook-saturated numbers. Just as stunning and captivating (and spine-tingling!) is the band’s rowdy, inspiring rendition of Them’s “Baby Please Don’t Go” as Angus drops his drawers and paces the stage maniacally. However, probably the biggest highlight of the first disc is the band’s performance of “Rocker” and “Let There Be Rock” before a rather tranquil Scottish audience in April 1978. Here Young ends up on the rail of the second balcony while Scott belts out the lyrics.
As powerful as much of the material on Disc One is, the second disc offers up much of the same, albeit with the passing of Scott quickly related in a string of clippings in the bonus “Scrapbook” area. One of Scott’s final concerts with the band is also shown in this section but the quality is a bit poor. However, the band, as is now known rock history, lost nothing musically when Brian Johnson took over the vocals. While there are more songs on Disc Two, a few of the selections are from albums that didn’t quite measure up to the likes of Black In Black, Highway To Hell and For Those About To Rock We Salute You. This is especially true of concert footage from 1983 when the band opts for “Bedlam In Belgium” and “Flick Of The Switch”. Equally average and at times a bit listless is the group’s 1996 tour footage in support of Ballbreaker taken from an Australian show. “Hail Caesar” might be a favorite to some, but it’s forgettable for most.
That isn’t to say that as the anthology moves closer to 2000 and beyond the band’s live show gets worse. In fact the homestretch contains a great “Rock And Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution” that has Angus Young, Malcolm Young and Brian Johnson basically sweating their equivalent body weight. But of all the songs which seem to show that the transition from Scott to Johnson was as seamless as any in rock history is Johnson and company doing “Ride On”, a slow and finely tuned blues-rock track that shines before a sold-out Paris crowd despite Johnson seemingly looking a bit too often at what is probably a teleprompt. And while this particular disc has more bonus footage, the real keeper is Angus and Malcolm Young sharing the stage with The Rolling Stones during “Rock Me Baby”. Richards and Young try to one-up the other with Richards not knowing what to make of this rather little man with the big guitar.
In terms of packaging and presentation, Plug Me In uses a “Space Invaders” theme and motif for its menu. There are multiple options here, which allow the viewer to see songs at random or have them play in order. The scrapbook is also a nice collection of pieces even if they are shown during two songs. Overall, AC/DC have given fans what they want here, nothing that reeks of KISS-ology and its musical minutia but a nice capsule of a band that is one of the best rock and roll bands to walk the planet.