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AC/DC At Metlife, Wednesday, August 27th, 2015, Reviewed

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Heavy Metal is by definition both heavy and metal -it is iron ore, an anchor of sound that sinks down in your membranes and fills every part of you, and that’s heavy metal. But it isn’t quite AC/DC, who brought what remains of its forty plus years in the rock and roll business to Metlife last night. AC/DC do something lighter on its feet: a metal more fluid, more mercurial. And despite founding member  rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young’s retirement  from the band for health reasons, and long time (20 years plus) drummer Phil Rudd departing for legal reasons, the Australian based band still had the lightest touch in no nonsense rock.

The reason it continues to work so well was obvious at Metlife: Lead singer Brian Johnson and lead guitarist Angus Young make a great twosome at the heart of the set: they are like the Penn And Teller of hard rock. Brian is Penn without the bluster and  with a high pitched scream right over the crashing waves of riffs. He rides the resolutely proletariat songs about singing songs about what it is like to sing songs with a self-effacing artistry. The stage was huge but Brian didn’t need much, he just wails on, ripping everything around him as he shreds his vocal cords. With AC/DC dismissing tunes for hooks at every turn, Brian didn’t need to worry about history or pedigree, he just needed to belt it across. Whether opening song “Rock Or Bust” off last years album, or the very next  number, “Shoot To Thrill” from Brian’s debut performance with the band 30 years earlier, it is all one, it is seamless, Brian maintains absolute consistency in his performance. He starts fast and hard and high, and never falters for 145 minutes.

Before AC/DC,  Vintage Trouble, the clever r&b band with a new album just released, were a terrible idea for an opening set, they should have turned the gig down. I saw Vintage Trouble  with the Who on the Quadrophenia tour a coupla years ago and no doubt Ty Taylor has the skills needed to be a big time frontman,  but though they gave it everything they had it was the wrong band in the wrong place. The sound was weak, they were playing soul rockers in a place with zero market for it and Vintage Trouble were just lost out there.

AC/DC lost their entire rhythm section between the last tour in 2010 and this one, and therefore Angus is missing his brother Malcolm for the first time ever, but neither AC/DC nor Angus miss him on stage. The world doesn’t quite get  Angus because he is a 60 year old man dressed as a schoolboy, but over the years the schoolboy costume has become less one of a child and more one of a sprite. Like (Ray) Teller, Angus is a mute, an other worldly spirit, the translation of the horns from hell into a playful transmogrification for the audience, and a representative of the audience all at the same time. With his cap off, Angus looks more like an otherworldly spirit than a child, and in a red uniform he seems to be moving from side to side between the spiritual and the earthly.But think again: HE IS IN FACT A SCHOOL BOY! He isn’t a Black Sabbath, Led Zep, Aleister Crowley worshipper, he is like Puck from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” laughing “what fools these mortals be” and again, it is all lightness in the dark. When he goes to hell it’s to rides on the bells.

Last night, Angus was all white noise, hard rock, it doesn’t bare down because its soulfulness is too innocent, there is no 12 bar blues, it survived 1977 due to its lack of blackness. Angus is so rhythmically attuned, he doesn’t flip out with his brother and drummer gone, his attack is like white bullets of sound. He takes fast, loud, pulse vibrating solos, they shimmer in the Stadium and they galvanized the audience who know exactly what they are getting  and get it and like it.

Last night, AC/DC were the anti-Led Zeppelin, they don’t traffic in selling you on rock and roll stardom, there is no Id at work. Imagine rock and roll is a Ferrari, AC/DC are the mechanics who maintain it so it goes fast and smooth. With the exception of “You Shook Me All Night Long”, they don’t have a memorable tune to their name and all their lyrics are ephemera, the audience chant hooks but the hooks have no real meaning, so that frees the set up from expectation. Sure “Hells Bells”, “Back In Black” and a coupla others get an especially loud cheer, but really the set just goes from one great song to another to another: never faltering, never cheapening or calling it in, in front of a well lit, simple stage.

Compared to the recent Foo Fighters gig, for instance, the band are entirely self-effacing, no rock posturing unless contorted little devil Angus counts, no badgering the crowd except for the occasional imp up.  little conversation, heads down, straight ahead hard rock heavy metal. Brian is from Newcastle (he used to be in Geordie!) and the Youngs were born in Scotland, both practical places, but it feels like an Australian practicality. Think of a band like the Saints -that sort of rock and roll pragmatism given a smirk and a red devil’s horn.

It wasn’t a perfect evening, from where I was sitting the sound mix was terrible and the way everything was randomly muddied really hurt.  Also, the 15 to 30 seconds or so between songs was a terrible concept. Have they never heard of the segue? Silence does not work in Arenas and I don’t know why they do it. Still, I was happy to scream “dirty deeds and they’re done dead cheap” at the top of my lungs and so were 75K other folks, and we always will be.

Grade: A-

 

 

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