AC/DC: Heavy Metal’s Eternal Schoolboys at the O2 Arena

We’ve got some old songs and some new songs for you,” AC/DC’s singer Brian Johnson growled, in an accurate but dispiriting précis of the AC/DC concert-going experience. Watching the antique Australian hard rockers perform is like witnessing a venerable but tedious ritual with scant application to the modern world: heavy metal’s version of Trooping the Colour.

The show began with a cartoon film depicting scantily clad nymphomaniacs on board a runaway steam train: it didn’t require a Freudian analyst to unpack the symbolism. Then, with a bang, a physical replica of the steam train burst onto the stage amid fireworks. Beneath its vast smoking carcass the members of AC/DC walked mildly to their positions, more in the manner of commuters than survivors of an apocalyptic train crash.

At the forefront was Johnson, sporting the usual flat cap, voice like a pride of lions on heat. Next to him was lead guitarist Angus Young, dressed in his habitual schoolboy’s uniform (he is 54 years old). Behind them two Lurch-like figures stood on either side of the drum rider playing bass and rhythm guitar. Occasionally they marched stiffly forwards to contribute backing vocals to some inane chorus or other: “She’s got the jack, she’s got the jack/She’s got the jack, jack, jack, jack, jack, jack, jack.”

They have a new album out, Black Ice , which sticks limpet-like to the formula they’ve followed for more than 30 years: priapic lyrics about “dirty, dirty women”; bludgeoning blues-rock riffs; and the grinding tempo of heavy machinery.

Young’s malevolent-sounding guitar on ‘Dirty Deeds Done Cheap’, the title track of a 1976 album, was a reminder that the formula once worked. But repetition has long since exhausted it. What’s left is a group of late-middle-aged men going through the motions, employing a familiar roster of stage props – a huge bell for ‘Hell’s Bells”‘ an obscenely proportioned inflatable doll for ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ – and equally stale routines.

‘Let There Be Rock’ climaxed with Young playing a long solo full of demented glissandi and convulsive arpeggios. Even Jimmy Page, watching some 20 seats to my right, would have been impressed. Yet, like AC/DC’s career, the solo went on and on, descending into a smirking pantomime of hard rock. It’s all just a bit of fun, AC/DC’s defenders insist. Well, this wasn’t.

This article is reproduced with the permission of Financial Times

© Ludovic Hunter-TilneyFinancial Times, 17 April 2009

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