Live: AC/DC

Despite being a blend of the old and new, the Aussies show they’re still the best on the planet with a galactic performance.

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Live shows at this level are strange affairs. With the demand for tickets out-stripping the supply of available seats at smaller venues, bands choose to play cavernous buckets like Wembley, and while such spaces might be able to accommodate the biggest of shows, it’s at the expense of much else.

No one gets close to the band, and the sound suffers. So you wonder what’s going through Ty Taylor’s mind as support act Vintage Trouble wander onstage to the strains of Big Mama Thornton’s Hound Dog. They’re a band built on the stifling heat and physical closeness of club shows, but here it sounds as if they’re playing from within the depths of a distant wheelie bin. It looks like it’s entertaining, but the sound is class-action-suit woeful, and Ty is eventually forced to take matters into his own hands, swimming 20 metres out into the audience across a sea of outstretched hands, perhaps to personally apologise to as many people as he can. Both band and audience deserve so much better.

The headliners don’t suffer so much as the volume ramps up, although the riffs still slap and echo disconcertingly around the stadium. With a band whose snap is as crisp as AC/DC’s, this is a problem, and the songs they’re playing end up competing with the more focused originals in your head.

But it’s AC/DC, and if any band can overcome such trifling irritations, they can. It’s tempting to assume that Malcolm Young’s illness and Phil Rudd’s misdemeanours have deprived the band of some of the malevolent urgency that’s traditionally driven their shows, but there’s little evidence of this. Hamstrung? There’s barely a limp. It’s as if Angus and Brian are determined to prove that the show can carry on without Malcolm’s hand on the tiller, and the ‘new’ boys – the returning Chris Slade and cousin Stevie – fit in seamlessly, the latter sporting the same Gretsch Jet Firebird as uncle Malcolm. Brian Johnson’s rasp is a little thinner than usual, and he stumbles over the words in Shoot To Thrill, but elsewhere it’s business as usual.

It’s a magnificent, balls-out, utterly daft show. On the Black Ice tour the band’s intro featured a train barrelling towards the stage before bursting through the backdrop, but here the countdown is positively galactic in scale, as a meteor screams towards earth before appearing to detonate in a wall of pyrotechnic sparks. The set is as predictable as ever (Rock And Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution is the one glaring omission), but it doesn’t matter. What kind of DC show would it be if they didn’t play Back In Black? Or Dirty Deeds? Or Thunderstruck? Or Whole Lotta Rosie?

When everything clicks, as it does on the slow shift through the gears at the beginning of Hells Bells or during the heads-down, galloping thrash of Let There Be Rock, AC/DC are still the best live act on the planet. The rest of the time they’re merely brilliant, and the evening isn’t without surprises. Highlights include an inflatable Dalek bouncing across the crowd during High Voltage and an enormous cheer erupting during Sin City as a pair of naked breasts briefly appear on the big screen. Throughout, Angus pirouettes and duck-walks and does his curious shuffle, and throws himself to his knees in a manner that isn’t only entertaining, but – for a 60-year-old – it’s also positively heroic. It all ends on Highway To Hell and For Those About To Rock, and they’re gone. Always the same, never bettered.

Classic Rock 214: Lives

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 36 years in music industry, online for 23. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.