“The comeback few expected but everyone wanted”: AC/DC’s Power Up tour – the first review

AC/DC kicked off their first tour in eight years with a show in Germany. We were there

AC/DC’s Angus Young performing onstage at the Veltsin Arena in Gelsnekirchen, Germany
(Image: © Ina Fassbender/AFP via Getty Images)

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Emotion? What emotion? “It’s wonderful to see ya all again, ” mutters AC/DC singer Brian Johnson cheerfully at the end of tonight’s opening song If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It) like he’s walked into an afternoon session at his local boozer rather than kicking off his band’s first tour in eight years. “Enjoy yourselves, OK?”

This famously hard-shelled band don’t do sentimentality, but the 70,000 people gathered under the closed roof of the vast Veltins-Arena, just outside of the German city of Gelsenkirchen, are definitely feeling it. All but the most blindly optimistic AC/DC fan doubted this night would ever come. The band that wound up the Rock Or Bust tour in 2016 were three key men down: singer Brian Johnson, retired injured halfway through and replaced by stand-in Axl Rose; drummer Phil Rudd, in legal hot water after some ill-advised drug possession/death threats shenanigans; and, most poignantly, guitarist and AC/DC’s steely heart Malcolm Young, at home battling the dementia that would eventually claim his life (bassist Cliff Williams also announced his retirement after the tour was over). Sure, there was last year’s comeback at the Power Trip festival, but who knew where there that was going to lead.

Here, as it turns out, to the home of German football team FC Schalke, where the band are belatedly kicking off a 24-date stadium tour in support of 2020’s Power Up album. Malcolm, Rudd and Williams aren’t up there anymore, their places taken respectively by old standby Stevie Young plus drummer Matt Laug and bassist Chris Cheney. But Angus Young is still here and so is Brian Johnson, his debilitating loss of hearing sorted by the surgeons. And that’s what matters.

At 8.30 prompt, the lights go down and the nine giant screens that span the stage pop into retina-searing life. An animated intro video shows a flame-red hotrod with furry lightning bolt dice hanging from the mirror and an Angus Young hood ornament heading down the autobahn to hell to the gig. There’s a roar from the crowd as it screeches to a halt in some virtual backstage area and then… AC/DC amble onstage like it’s just another gig.

Which in many ways it is. It’s exactly the same setlist as they played at Power Trip, with the running order slightly remixed. If You Want Blood… and Shot Down In Flames aside, the first half leans into the Johnson years. Back In Black is heavily mined, of course, and both Thunderstruck and Rock And Roll Train have become modern classics, but it’s good to hear Stiff Upper Lip again, and Shot In The Dark and Demon Eyes represent Power Up (shame there’s no Through The Mists Of Time, one the best songs they’ve written since Back In Black). The second half flips the script, focussing on the Bon Scott years: Sin City, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, High Voltage, Whole Lotta Rosie, TNT… all as familiar as that pair of jeans with the ripped pocket and holes in the arse.

Yet even AC/DC have moved with the times. With the exception of the giant bell that descends from the ceiling to usher in Hells Bells, the physical props of old - giant wrecking balls, inflatable Rosies and the rest - have been consigned to deep storage. Most of the visual action takes place on the giant screens that span the stage. The red visuals give the stadium a hellish cast during Demon Eyes, Angus is flame-grilled during Highway To Hell and the band are rendered in moody black and white during Back In Black.

AC/DC’s Brian Johnson performing onstage at the Veltsin Arena in Gelsnekirchen, Germany

(Image credit: Ina Dassbender/AFP via Getty Images)

There are concessions to age, too. Angus’ mid-solo stripteases are a thing of the past, as is the sight of him perched on that wrecking ball. But he’s still the greatest whole-body guitar player in history, duckwalking through Riff Raff and spinning on his back like a silver-haired turtle at the climax of the extended, ever-electrifying Let There Be Rock. And if Beano’s voice isn’t quite the force of nature it once was, he’s got 70,000 people helping him out.

There are few minor first night glitches. Angus sidles off to the side of the stage to swap his guitar midway through Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be. A couple of songs are preceded by moments of silence as the guitarist and singer huddle round the drumkit, discussing who knows what. Someone backstage is probably sweating profusely for their job at that point.

Surprises? If you want surprises, go see a jazz band. Stevie Young and Chris Cheney still amble to and from their microphones twice in every song to sing backing vocals, like they’re on rails. Johnson’s between-song patter is still a mix of unintelligible mumbles, phlegmy coughs, random noise and what at one point sounds like a Tarzan impression. And the show still ends with For Those About To Rock (We Salute You) and the deafening sound of those six gigantic cannons exploding from atop the amps. Heavy artillery, like AC/DC themselves, never goes out of fashion. It’s the comeback few expected but everyone wanted. It’s been emotional. It really has.

Dave Everley

Dave Everley has been writing about and occasionally humming along to music since the early 90s. During that time, he has been Deputy Editor on Kerrang! and Classic Rock, Associate Editor on Q magazine and staff writer/tea boy on Raw, not necessarily in that order. He has written for Metal Hammer, Louder, Prog, the Observer, Select, Mojo, the Evening Standard and the totally legendary Ultrakill. He is still waiting for Billy Gibbons to send him a bottle of hot sauce he was promised several years ago.