by Dylan Looney
First things first, as the title implies, I am a huge fan of the band AC/DC. They are the band that made me want to play guitar, and I have dressed up in lead guitarist Angus Young’s trademark schoolboy suit on multiple occasions. Yes, I am that kind of fan. Needless to say, I was stunned at the announcement that rhythm guitarist and band leader Malcolm Young would be forced to retire due to complications from dementia, which had severely hindered his ability to play. Likewise, I was dismayed when it was reported that drummer Phil Rudd had been arrested for drug possession and for making death threats (as well as hiring a hitman, but that charge was soon dropped). It looked as if I was watching the band self-destruct before my very eyes.
However, AC/DC has faced similar situations before. Many thought the group was over after the death of legendary frontman Bon Scott in 1980, but that same year, the band recruited vocalist Brian Johnson and recorded the classic Back in Black, which has sold more copies than any other album besides Michael Jackson’s Thriller. In a similar move last year, the group brought in Angus and Malcolm’s nephew Stevie Young on rhythm guitar as well as former drummer Chris Slade. Stevie has filled Malcolm’s shoes before, playing on the North American leg of their 1988 tour, which made a stop in Johnson City.
The band’s latest album, Rock or Bust, was released last December and is one of their strongest efforts since the ’80s. Tracks such as the title track and “Baptism by Fire” roar with an intensity and a hunger that may have been inspired by the group’s recent loss of Malcolm (Phil Rudd’s legal issues didn’t occur until after the album’s recording, but the band reports that his behavior at the time was quite erratic). The band debuted the new lineup to 24.8 million viewers at this year’s Grammy Awards, performing the new track “Rock or Bust,” followed by their 1979 classic “Highway to Hell”. Watching the performance, it was clear that the band I loved had no intentions of going away soon and that time did not hinder their ability to deliver a great performance. Soon afterward, it was announced that they would be headlining the Coachella music festival, which is usually an unwelcome place for acts of AC/DC’s ilk. Sure enough, many were unhappy with AC/DC’s presence at the festival usually reserved for the hipper-than-thou artists of EDM and indie rock. Again, it seemed the band had something to prove.
“I hope you guys like rock ‘n’ roll,” quipped Johnson after thundering off the first song in their Coachella set, “’cause that’s all we do.” Surely enough, the band was aware of their detractors, and was determined to silence them, or at least drown them out. For their first full live performance in six years, the band put on an amazing show, with Johnson’s vocals and Angus’s guitar sounding better than they have in years as they pounded out classic after classic. Tracks from the new album made an appearance as well, albeit a little shaky in parts due to not being rehearsed and played for as many years as, say, “Back in Black” or “T.N.T.” Possibly the biggest surprise of the night was the revival of a couple songs that have been left off the set list for years, such as “Have a Drink on Me” and “Sin City.” Both were executed perfectly and were a big treat for the die-hard fans.
As Young head-banged and duck-walked all over the stage, blood dripping from his skinned knees, it seemed as if the band were winning over the Coachella crowd. This impression was driven home as Angus emerged from a confetti-spraying platform in the middle of the audience and later ran through the masses on his way back to the stage, all the while playing the guitar solos for “Let There Be Rock.” It must have been an amazing experience for those in attendance, as I could even feel the excitement coming through my laptop screen and earphones while watching fan-recorded videos on YouTube (usually, I despise people holding up their phones all throughout a concert, but in this case, I had to make an exception). If I were to have any complaints, it would be the aforementioned shakiness of the newer tracks, but I’m sure they will get ironed out throughout the tour. I also miss Malcolm’s presence on stage. While Stevie does a fine job at his uncle’s guitar-playing, his backing vocals leave much to be desired and lack the signature eerie, croaking tone of Malcolm’s. Altogether, the performance showed a band with a new fire underneath them, and it made me very proud to be a fan.