All aboard the rock n’ roll trainAC/DC, LG Arena, Birmingham, 23 April 2009
“The party starts right here, right now!” Brian Johnson is on one. Moments after bursting onstage in a flash of pyros and strobe lights, rock ’n’ roll’s most lascivious frontman is leering at the thousands of fans gathered to salute those about to rock, AC/DC.
For many here tonight, this is their first time witnessing the furore of DC live. And, if industry rumours are to be believed, it might be their last too. Regardless, TG is smack bang in the middle of the LG Arena, sandwiched between Acca fans old and new, and barely unable to control our bodily functions. The site of a small schoolboy clutching a Gibson SG stage-right might even be enough to make us do a small wee…
As we all know, that ‘schoolboy’ is 54-year-old guitar legend Angus Young. AC/DC is unquestionably ‘his band’. It’s not chants of ‘DC’ that are booming around this arena, but “Angus! Angus!” Johnson may be the conductor of this rock ’n’ roll train, but Angus is most definitely the controller.
As Malcolm Young, drummer Phil Rudd and bassist Cliff Williams rev the engine on ‘Rock ’n’ Roll Train’, TG and the thousands of revellers here tonight know we’re in for one hell of a ride.
“Give it all, give it. Give it what you got!” Brian and Angus are certainly holding true to the sentiment of ‘Rock ’n’ Roll Train’s’ lyrics; Angus rips his first solo of the night and the crowd are already feverish.
On new album title track ‘Black Ice’, Brian stalks the stage like a demented Cab Calloway, taunting the crowd and pumping out massive amounts of rock bravado. He looks incredible for a man of his age, every ounce a performer with decades of touring under his belt. The riff sounds way sleazier live than on record – a driving track underpinned by Rudd’s solid beat and Malcolm and Cliff’s skin-tight rhythm.
We were hoping ‘Back In Black’ would be high up in the setlist, but we didn’t expect it so soon. The telling hi-hat ‘chick’ opening of DC’s biggest song emits a soundwave of hysteria throughout the arena, and Angus laps it up from the get go. His playing may be sloppy at times, and he’s turned up way too loud for us to hear much of Johnson’s cajones-ripping chorus notes, but TG doesn’t care one jot.
Watching Angus duck walk, riff and blister his way through DC’s seemingly ‘Greatest Hits’ setlist is unreal. While his bro Malcolm is content to hang back and lay down the foundations with Phil and Cliff, Angus pushes himself to the edge on every single track. Even when Brian looks tired, Angus digs into his seemingly endless reserve of energy and keeps the train rolling.
Newbies ‘War Machine’ and ‘Anything Goes’ slot immensely into DC’s extensive back catalogue, but it’s the balls-out rockness of oldies ‘Shoot To Thrill’, ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’, ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap’ and ‘TNT’ that tip us over the edge. ‘Thunderstruck’ takes it to a new level, while the hoisting of Hell’s Bell for DC’s ‘Back In Black’ opener is a moment TG will remember forever: “I’m the rolling thunder, pouring rain. I’m coming on like a hurricane.” Surely the best opening lines ever?
Highlights include ‘The Jack’, ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ – replete with a giant inflatable masturbating woman – and encore tracks ‘Highway To Hell’ and ‘For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)’.
As AC/DC end their set in a blaze of strobes, flames and chanting, TG’s stunned and inspired. We leave the venue daydreaming about how cool it would be to be Angus Young. The pint-sized guitarist and DC were the reason TG started to rock in the first place, and they are the reason we will rock until the day we die.
Photography: David Phillips