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AC/DC in New York City now with Photos!

By Mick Stingley, Contributor
Saturday, November 15, 2008 @ 11:36 AM


Madison Square Garden

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For Those About To Rock...

The roll out for the new AC/DC album, Black Ice, and current tour has been epic. It's difficult to recall the last time a straight-up rock or metal band has had such excitement and anticipation aligned with massive press saturation (television, radio, print, internet, video-games). Last year's Van Halen "reunion" is about the only thing which comes close to the current AC/DC mania (though they didn't have new material to release); and this kind of intense scrutiny is usually reserved for pop stars, country artists and "media darlings" (Springsteen, Billy Joel, Elton John, Dylan and U2).

That Black Ice has been sold almost exclusively through Wal-Mart, the Christian-American corporate retail monster which cherry-picks the CDs it sells (and which offers only "clean" copies, i.e., no "Parental Advisory" warning stickers) to consumers is unprecedented; and a milestone for the Australian hard-rockers. Granted, the band's new album is also available via the AC/DC website: but it only retails at Sam's Club, specially designated LA/NYC stores (which sell only AC/DC merch), and Wal-Mart. So for the band once flogged by, well, idiots, as being "Anti-Christian/Devil's Children," it's certainly amazing to see them embraced in such a monumental way by the mainstream. But let's face it: even your mom knows "Highway To Hell" is about touring...

And your mom ought to know "Highway To Hell" since it's been playing on radio stations for close to thirty years. In fact, most of the AC/DC catalogue has been in the mainstream for thirty to thirty-five years: on the radio and TV; blasting from cars, at sports-events; immortalized by tribute bands around the world and covered by artists from hip-hop to pop to country; and of course, Celine Dion. And despite the fact that AC/DC hasn't had a mega-hit since "The Razor's Edge" in 1991, (or maybe because of it), excitement is high and it's pretty clear that at this point AC/DC is a household name. It's not just die-hard rockers: we all love AC/DC.

So with the first album of new material in eight years all over creation, it's a given that even the casual fans are going to flock to get tickets to see them live. Such was the case Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden as fans of all ages, some 20,000 strong, turned out to get their Angus on.

Fly On The Wall

The run-up to a concert at MSG starts in the nearby bars on Seventh and Eighth Avenues, from the Molly Wee Pub to Mustang Harry's to Tir Na Nog. Tir Na Nog, a claustrophobic, slightly-upscale (read: clean) Irish bar and restaurant on the West Side of Eighth Avenue between 33rd and 34th (across from Duane Reade) and diagonally located across from the Garden. They have a tendency to play the music of whoever is performing that night, whether at MSG or Hammerstein Ballroom (just around the corner) and this night was like any other as they blasted classic AC/DC tunes. The place was packed out with college kids and new dads (and even some really old guys) in AC/DC shirts pounding pints of beer and smiling and laughing.

Conversations tended to recollections of past concerts and anticipation of the night's event. First-timers wondered aloud about the band's set-list and concern over seating; and this provided some insight from others about how best to enjoy the evening.

The first problem: "I have nosebleeds!"

Referring to seat assignments, of course; this should not be a problem. It's AC/DC and you're going. That's it. These guys haven't toured in eight years and who knows when they'll tour again, if ever. Furthermore, the band was never much to look at (it's about the music) and these guys are well into their 50s and early 60s (Brian Johnson, 62). You really don't have to be that close to enjoy the show, to paraphrase Gene Shalit (on Faye Dunaway): "From 10 yards away, she's a great-looking broad; up close you want to be 10 yards away!" Or something like that - but the point is the same: it ain't Shakira, lads.

The second problem: "I wonder if they'll play..."

They aren't likely to be taking any chances on this tour, so don't get your hopes up for the odd B-side or a slew of Bon Scott classics. This is their first time out in years so it'll be largely familiar material which they draw upon. And as the internet is the great spoiler, you have only to check out the set-list online to see what you'll be hearing. Nothing but hits.

Third problem, and perhaps the most important one: "When do we go out for beers or to piss?"

Big problem, there. Wherever you're sitting, if you're a beer-drinker, you're going to have to get up at least once to refill or unleash. AC/DC doesn't have any ballads, and while that's essentially great for a rock fan, it sucks if you have to check out during any part of the show. No real answers here, you just have to hope for the best that the "beer-guys" will come around often enough so you don't have to hit the long-lines at the concession stands; and pray that you don't have to wizz... because once you break the seal, dude... Those attending who did check out the setlist of previous shows online will know that AC/DC is doing five new songs; so maybe that's a chance to make a break for it. Or you can just wait until they play "The Jack" since you know they're gonna stretch that one out a little bit.

"FIRE!"

The stage is flanked by giant video screens, with a lighted runway which stretches forward to the center of the Garden. A cartoon of the band, on a train filled with girls plays on the big screen the second the lights go down. What kind of train is this? Why, a Rock And Roll Train, of course! A locomotive going dangerously out-of-control, thanks to some honeys who ambush our favorite short-pants guitarist... and needless to say, the train plunges forward at dangerous speeds and heads right toward the audience.

As the train approaches, smoke bombs explode on-stage and the band appears, with Angus Young cranking the opening chords to the new classic, "Rock And Roll Train."

From this point forward, the entire audience is on its feet and shouting the lyrics. Some guys are playing air guitar and everyone is just generally freaking out. The song has only been out for about a month, but everyone knows it...

The band plays well and the sound is terrific, as clear as if it was blasting through your iPod headphones. Brian Johnson, in jeans and a sleeveless workshirt with guns blazing, and wearing his signature cap, shuffles around the stage... Phil Rudd remains stationary through the gig, keeping the beats big; while bassist Cliff Williams and Angus' brother Malcolm hold steady, stage left and stage right, only coming forward to sing on choruses, before retreating out of the spotlight. In fact, with the exception of the times they go for water or check guitars, Cliff and Malcolm's stage moves are limited to this: back and forth all night in straight line to and from the microphones. But this is to be expected. They may not run around crazily like the members of Iron Maiden, but they don't need to. This is AC/DC: simple, clean, efficient and straightforward rocking.

The running around is left solely to Angus Young. In his schoolboy clothes, he struts with his SG up and down the stage, out on to the runway, and then sideways, sometimes falling to the floor and spinning in circles. Mostly he cranks out chord after lovable familiar chord and does that Chuck Berry duckwalk, his mouth wide open, leering and guffawing at the crowd.

Johnson is in great voice all night, which is surprising given his propensity to sound like an asthmatic parrot. But tonight he is clean and sharp, even though he is matched in volume and energy by the audience. You see, even though at times he shuffles around the stage with his microphone like a retirement community resident with an IV, Johnson is the master of ceremonies. His between-song banter is difficult to understand; but his singing (or screeching) is spot-on and as youthful as it ever was. It's all about how you feel, of course, and Mr. Johnson acts as if he hasn't aged in 28 years. He's still the same gravel-voiced pub-room brawler he was for "Back In Black" and that's all the audience needs at this show.

Song after song comes in and there are few surprises. The set-list is heavy on AOR radio staples ("You Shook Me;" "Back In Black;" "TNT;" "Thunderstruck;" "Dirty Deeds") and there are no concessions to die-hards hoping for songs like "Jailbreak" or "If You Want Blood." There is no "Who Made Who," no "Moneytalks," no "Sink The Pink" and no "Big Gun." This is the biggest and only problem of the night: it's not the songs they play, it's the songs they don't play. Anyone who loves AC/DC will face some mild disappointment over this, as with a band as enigmatic as this, there is so much to cover in so little time. If only they could play for six hours with no opening act...instead they offer 5 new songs, including "Rock And Roll Train," the title cut and the instantly catchy, "War Machine." This last one is especially good because, if you haven't heard it, in typical AC/DC fashion, you will find the band doesn't complicate the chorus with elongated bridges and vocal gymnastics. It goes simply, "WAR! (beat) MAH-SHEEN! WAR! (beat) MAH-SHEEN!" Who knows what it's about (war? Tony Stark? Girls? McDonald's?) and who cares? It'll probably become a sports-anthem during some playoffs and still no one would care what it's about, it just sounds great and is easy to sing along to.

There are some treats, however: during "Whole Lotta Rosie," the big silly blow-up doll is inflated to much enthusiasm. The giant AC/DC "bell" is lowered for Brian Johnson to swing from (be careful, sir!) on "Hell's Bells," and tonight, they played "Shoot To Thrill." "Shoot To Thrill" sounds fantastic and doesn't this crowd know it! But that could be said for any song this evening, because for every beer-drinking maniac; every mom, dad and child; and every other person here tonight (including security, the old guys checking tickets at every gate, and the funny guys with the "AC/DC Italia" flag), AC/DC is just plain and simple headbanging fun.

...WE SALUTE YOU!

"Highway To Hell" was inevitable. Just standing there at the Garden hearing a crowd of 20,000 scream the song word-for-word is worth the price of admission alone (*cough*ahundredbucks*cough*); It comes late in the night, the first song as encore (even though it wasn't really clear they'd left the stage entirely); and it heralds the end of the evening as the cannons appear for what everyone knows is the last song of the night. "For Those About To Rock," the concert-ending staple of AC/DC's live show is almost anti-climatic given the phrase. It's often wondered why they don't open with this, as it would make for an excellent call-to-arms rally: to put it at the end of the night seems incongruous. (Shouldn't it be, as my friend Erik Pedersen offered, "For Those About To Stumble Out?") However, as it is a "hat's-off" to the fans, the screeching and cannon fire are as effective as fireworks during "The 1812 Overture" on the 4th of July.

No one wants the concert to end, of course; and isn't this always the way with great bands? For AC/DC, the tour continues (this show was the first of two-sold out nights at Madison Square Garden) to sell-out crowds across America and around the world. AC/DC is back. They still rock. And even if they're not full of surprises, one thing can be certain: an AC/DC concert is not to be missed, simply because it's so much fun to see and hear them do it. You pretty much know what you're going to get; and in this day and age, it's nice to feel like you got what you paid for. AC/DC is just a fucking great rock and roll party. Here's hoping it's not another eight years before they do it again.

Photos 2008 David Svendsen / Photos from the Phoenix show 12/10/08



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