September 1, 2016
Like many AC/DC fans, I remember where I was and what I was doing the day I heard Bon Scott died. With their newfound success of their latest album, Highway To Hell, everyone knew AC/DC was on the brink of superstardom. For a while, the death of Bon changed all that. The band didn’t want to go on without him. The album that they had just started recording in London wasn’t the main focus anymore. Everyone was in shock, especially the band.
Several weeks later, the addition of Brian Johnson was announced, and the band was back in the studio recording the album that was almost never made: Back In Black. Now one of the Top 10 biggest selling albums in history. I remember the first time I saw them on the Back In Black tour in 1980. As a church bell mournfully opened the song, “Hells Bells,” tears ran down my face as I watched Brian Johnson step into Bon Scott’s shoes and the audience going wild. Not only could he hold his own, but he brought joy, respect and celebration for what Bon had left behind. Which was his humor, his swagger and especially his irreplaceable lyrics, which they perform to this day.
Catching the Rock or Bust tour in Chicago, IL at Wrigley Field last September 15, 2015, the band never sounded stronger. Or course the line-up was different, Stevie Young playing for Malcolm Young and Chris Slade behind the kit instead of Phil Rudd. As the band filmed a DVD that night, even I didn’t expect the stellar show they put on for over 55,000 fans.
Less than a year later, I was going to see them in Washington D.C. on March 17, but just days before, the departure of Brian Johnson was announced, and the band postponed the last ten dates of their American leg of the Rock or Bust tour. Within days there were rumors swirling about what had really happened, who was going to fill in, or would the band even continue?
Again, I remember where I was when I read that Axl Rose of Guns N’ Roses was going to be filling in on vocals. Say what? Axl Rose, the same guy that had postponed his own comeback so many times, I lost count. The same redhead that showed up late for gigs, that is if he showed up at all. Apparently Axl was getting ready for his own tour when the call from AC/DC came in. Suddenly there were pictures of Axl leaving a studio in Atlanta, where the band remained to audition a replacement singer.
Considering the millions of Brian Johnson fans, the band offered a refund for those holding tickets to the remaining dates that would feature Axl Rose on vocals. Believe it or not, many fans chose to give up those tickets. When they came to the Philips Arena in Atlanta, GA on September 1st, I was just as skeptical as any diehard AC/DC fan who has loved Brian for over 30 years could be.
Within the first few minutes of the show, as the band opened with the title track from their latest album, Rock or Bust, it was obvious Axl knew he was walking on hallowed ground. The entire band came rolling out like the rock and roll train that AC/DC is. Playing everything from classics like “Back In Black,” “Thunderstruck,” “You Shook Me,” and “Dirty Deeds (Done Dirt Cheap),” it was obvious that they were still the masters of rock, no matter who was singing.
With Axl belting out the hits like his life depended on it, Angus was a non-stop whirling dervish of a man who becomes obsessed when he’s holding a guitar. According to Angus, the full transformation takes place once he puts on the schoolboy uniform. For Atlanta, it was deep brown velvet with a green baseball cap.
Thanks to Axl’s vocal range, we were also treated to “Live Wire,” “Rock ‘n’ Roll Damnation,” “Riff Raff,” and one of my all-time favorites, “If You Want Blood, (You’ve Got It).” Axl did a great job and the whole feel of the show brought back a lot of memories of their days with Bon Scott.
I’ve always said that Malcolm Young, Phil Rudd and Cliff Williams were one of the best rhythm sections on the planet, but I have to give a rock and roll salute to Stevie Young, Chris Slade and Cliff Williams. They all did an amazing job of not once letting up on the decidedly lethal rhythm assault that is the hallmark of AC/DC’s sound.
Of course Angus and his antics were the most fun to watch, and just when you think he has to slow down, he seems to gain a whole new level of energy. Especially toward the end of the show when they went from “Have A Drink On Me,” to “T.N.T,” “Whole Lotta Rosie,” and “Let There Be Rock.” The closing number included Angus rising up on a platform, throwing himself down on his back, and kicking and wailing while thousands of pieces of confetti rained down across the audience. This is when Angus truly turns into a teenager that should never grow up!
Their encore has changed a bit, playing three songs instead of two, including “Highway To Hell,” “Riff Raff,” and “For Those About to Rock.” With six cannons blazing, the band wrapped up the night with a fervor that reminded me of the first few times I saw the band live back in the seventies.
Almost 40 years later, and yes, the line-up has changed. Yes, they have gotten older, and Brian Johnson is no longer on vocals. But their songs, their rhythm, their energy and the joy that AC/DC have brought to millions of people around the world will never die. And for those about to rock, Angus, Stevie, Cliff, Chris and Axl, I salute you! Long live AC/DC!