AC/DC’s stage backdrop looked like something left over from a performance of that great lost Wagner opera, Loading Dock of the Valkyries: a stone wall, Teutonic columns topped with bad deco gargoyles, five steel-mesh-covered truck bays and a large gantry-mounted wrecking ball assembly. It seemed that everything was predictably set for a nice lowest-common-denominator finale in which the set would be destroyed by the wrecking ball — but AC/DC proved themselves to be lower than the lowest common denominator when they knocked everything over at the start of the show. Well, not exactly the start, since we did get the Beavis and Butthead meet AC/DC mini-movie even before the wrecking ball started swinging. You knew early on that you were at a show where you were not only going to be allowed to turn your brain off, you were going to be encouraged to do so.
AC/DC took the stage after the wrecking ball’s standing ovation-inspiring performance and set the evening’s controls straight to “Over the Top” by opening with their classic headbanging anthem, “Back in Black”. Black clad (huh huh, I get it) front-man Brian Johnson’s paint-removing, bird-killing, milk-pasteurizing, illegal-in-Idaho shriek seems (somehow) to have gotten better with age, as there were a couple of moments during the evening when you could actually understand a few sung words outside the clarion singalong choruses. (Johnson’s between-song speaking voice, however, remains completely unintelligible — sounding like a pastiche of random snippets culled from a Robert DeNiro-Harvey Keitel conversation in a vintage Scorsese film.)
Lead guitarist Angus Young pretty much remains lead guitarist Angus Young: he wore his green school-boy uniform, he did the Angus Dance throughout the show (right leg forward/head up for two beats, left leg forward/head down for two beats, repeat), he stripped down to his red-white-and-blue boxer shorts during “The Bogeyman” and he played some of the most riveting leads and solos ever to grace to a rock n’ roll stage. Hell . . . the stuff he whaled out during bluesier numbers like “Bogeyman”, “The Jack” and segments of “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution” would’ve been riveting on just about any stage.
And the other three-fifths the band? Well . . . don’t tell anyone, but they’re really the secret to why the whole AC/DC thing works so well: Angus and Brian need crunchy bedrock backing to properly frame their respective hysterias. Guitarist Malcolm Young and bassist Cliff Williams spent most of the evening standing loyally beside drummer Phil Rudd’s kit, except when they marched in lock-step to stage front for backing vocal duty (Surprise of the evening: it’s them, not Johnson, who sing the glottal “duhty deezanda dunduhrtcheep” chorus lines in “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”). The rhythm trio’s “Let There Be Rock” workout riff during Angus’ victory lap around the arena was particularly noteworthy — or at least particularly memorable, as there wasn’t really a lot of space for notes in that monolithic slab of guitar noise. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any louder, AC/DC’s stage crew deployed six howitzers during closer “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)”. That one song alone was worth at least two days worth of ear-drum buzz.
So was there a point to the whole thing when it was all done? Nahhh . . . it was like Johnson sang: “Rock and roll ain’t noise pollution — it’s just rock and roll, that’s all”. When rock and roll is done as well as AC/DC do it, that’s all you need.
2 thoughts on “Concert Review: AC/DC (Knickerbocker Arena, Albany, New York, September 7, 1996)”
Always been fond of a spot of AC/DC, even if they haven’t actually made a decent album in nearly 40 years!
Awww, I like a lot of their later albums. I mean, with a few exceptions, they’re all the same album anyway . . . but “Black Ice” (2008) and “Rock or Bust” (2014) both earned plentiful spins around our household when they came out, and each of them has a song or two (as do most of their albums) that are keepers and fit well within any good rock mix.