American Airlines Center, Dallas
Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Angus Young is going to die with his boots on. After seeing the 60-year-old AC/DC guitarist in action at American Airlines Center on Tuesday night, it's hard to imagine it happening any other way. The man lives to play, and more important, he lives to play rock 'n' roll, which is why even the forced exit of his brother from the band hasn't slowed him down.
For Young's band, AC/DC, it's always been about rock music. There may be some lyrics about women thrown in along the way, and plenty of odes to drinking as well, but it always comes back to rock: saluting rock, getting some rock, letting there be rock. And for two hours in Dallas, he and singer Brian Johnson effectively put on a two-man show, never slowing down.
Which is remarkable, since, in AC/DC's place, many other bands would have long ago devolved into a glorified tribute act. With the loss of his brother, Malcolm, from the lineup due to dementia, the only other longtime member of the group left is bassist Cliff Williams. It's an odd conversation, since Johnson's been playing the role of replacement singer for over 35 years, although by now he's put out a larger body of work than the man he was hired to replace, Bon Scott.
The show reflects this history: Most of the band's hits, by the way, were Johnson's. Only seven of the 20 songs on the setlist were originally sung by Scott, proof that Johnson has taken arguably the hardest gig in rock music and made it completely his own.
Young, in particular, wrung out every ounce of energy he had to put on his performance on Tuesday. Early on, the moves almost felt predictable: There was the schoolboy outfit, the skipping guitar solo up the runway, the finger taps and the one-armed salutes. But gradually the adrenaline took over, and it was as though Young would stop at nothing — including using his necktie like a violin bow — to melt all 18,000 faces in the room.
The tipping point came when Young made a banshee wail at the end of "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap," then shredded through a berserk solo that ended with him holding his guitar over his head. From there on out the pace of the show actually picked up, and Young — shedding clothes along the way — grew into an ever sweatier and ever more Gollum-like mess. His leg often twitched uncontrollably from the excitement.
The idea of pacing at an AC/DC show is a bit of joke. The band has only ever known one speed, and that's the metronomic speed at which Young cranks out riffs. The word "ballad" is not in their vocabulary. That can make their music formulaic, but it also means that every song, even the newer ones you've never heard, somehow still sound familiar.
While Young took a while to warm up, Johnson was prowling the stage — which was made to feel too big as the rest of the band, dressed of course in black, did their best to recede into the wall of Marshall amps stacked behind them — from the get-go.
At times Johnson's voice, which has always been a little hoarse, would cut out, but on the whole it was remarkably intact, particularly considering how hard he's used it over the years. And if Young's careening energy lit the fire under the show, it was Johnson's steady hand, fist pumps and all, that helped keep the whole thing on the rails.
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There were plenty of sing-alongs to be had — the line about Texas in "Thunderstruck" was no doubt the most popular of the night — as well as plenty of other gimmicks thrown in for entertainment value, from the hells bell to the giant inflatable Rosie to the canons at the very end. (Reminders that AC/DC has always been savvy about branding.) But inevitably it all came back to the rock 'n' roll, and to Young and his guitar.
Just when it seemed the show was winding to its conclusion, Young went full-on cowboy during "Let There Be Rock," which closed out the main set. It was complete chaos, a guitar solo that lasted a good 10 minutes and seemed to riff on every other metal band of the 1980s. There was a Curly walk and confetti canons. He disappeared backstage and reappeared atop the amps. Nothing was off limits.
And at the end of it all, Young stood center stage, sweating and heaving, saluting the crowd, having played to live and lived to play another day.
Rock or Bust
Shoot to Thrill
Hell Ain't a Bad Place to Be
Back in Black
Got Some Rock & Roll Thunder
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
Rock 'n' Roll Train
Given the Dog a Bone
You Shook Me All Night Long
Shot Down in Flames
Have a Drink on Me
Whole Lotta Rosie
Let There Be Rock
Highway to Hell
For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)