AC/DC, The Palace of Auburn Hills, November 5, 2008
As the first chords sounded inside the arena, someone in the men’s room line said, “Don’t worry, the intro is two minutes long.” But the line was as long as “Rock and Roll Train” turned out to be.
Getting to my seat for the second number, I joined my friend Catherine, already chugging away to the beat. We were located immediately stage right and, in Row H, just high enough to face into the grille of the portentous train sculpture aiming our way, a god-awful mishap from Disneyland. It was immediately apparent why the fleet of cargo trucks in the parking lot was needed: this band travels with iron. Our vantage point also afforded a fine view of the arena, and we saw many people wearing devil’s horns (an early and enduring motif of the band’s) with red flashing LED AC/DC “high voltage” symbols. Brian Johnson pranced around the starkly lit stage and belted out “Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be,” a story about an untrue woman as it might be composed in a blacksmith’s shop. Johnson’s unbelievable bawling voice and rough unsleeved charisma make him a potent and commanding front man. And then there’s lead guitarist Angus Young streaking back and forth in his red velvet suit and convulsing from his own notes, like a parsnip receiving blasts of current. Brother Malcolm Young stays in the background, strumming out the rhythm chords on a ratty guitar that might have been made from an old packing crate. He wore a dark tank shirt and tight black jeans and only took the spotlight a handful of times, far more attention than bassist Cliff Williams and drummer Phil Rudd received. Angus duck-walked through the Chuck Berry riffs and writhed during the solos, then yielded for more of Johnson’s strutting. There ultimately was the Angus striptease that resulted his bending over and dropping shorts to reveal (ah, relief!) a tasteful AC/DC flag over his bum. There were balls of fire during T.N.T, and of course the inimitable AC/DC brass bell during “Hells Bells,” with Johnson swinging from the clapper rope. Indeed, getting the actual clap was the subject of “The Jack,” the tasteful ditty that had just preceded.
Meanwhile, colors were gradually added to the stage lighting, and I think it was “War Machine,” from the new album “Black Ice,” that commenced with sinister green crosses inside purple circles. Soon the green went away and the circles changed to warm blues and soft limes in a surprising nod to 1960s pop, and the arena became a more comfortable place. The set change for “Whole Lotta Rosie”—an enormous blow-up doll becomes the backdrop—softened things further. Judging from the reactions of people around me, most had seen AC/DC before and were going through the motions, but even doing that provided a welcome relief after the long presidential campaign. By the time Angus was hoisted up on the satellite stage and spun on his back for the umpteen thousandth performance of this patented move, everybody had received their money’s worth. The first encore number was “Highway to Hell”—and the artillery cut loose in the finale, “For Those About to Rock.”
Tell Tchaikovsky the news! A cannonade still works!