AC/DC: NEC, Birmingham

CANNON AND BALLS!

“WE BASTARD walked straight in for Genesis,” the kid in front of me moaned as we shuffled along in one of the many human snakes winding slowly towards the gigantic arena that AC/DC had packed to capacity for the second night running. Everyone was the same, impatient and excited, and that ‘everyone’ included a ripe cross-section of punters, the hardcore rockers fleshed out with kid brothers, far more girls than the average HM night out, and plenty of scruffy scalliwags looking like they’d sauntered straight off the terraces at Villa Park, or Molineaux, or the Hawthorns… people had come from far and near for this ultimate in people’s bands. Plenty of Midlands publicans would be passing lonely hours jabbing cocktail sticks in voodoo dolls of Angus Young tonight.

Y&T were fighting a brave but doomed vanguard action as I finally made the stadium. You have to be a bit special to notch up any points opening for AC/DC and Y&T aren’t special at all. They looked and sounded second-hand, and despite the odd energy surge they came over as clichéd, uninspired and blandly unoriginal.

I preferred the G&T in my hand and, for the moment, my strange vantage point. In their infinite wisdom WEA had deemed that a prime review seat should be to the side of the stage with an uncluttered view of the amps and two drum cymbals. The only good thing about this ridiculous position was that it gave me an uninterrupted view of the Bellend Social Club.

For the uninitiated, this is a bar area set up by AC/DC at the back of the stage for the purpose of pre-set boozing and dart playing. My main conclusion about Y&T’s set was that if Beano Johnson came to play darts in my local I’d plead arthritis. A long interval, replete with prime Plant, Stones and ZZ Top tracks, gave me time to wrangle my way past security men for a decent view of the stage, and then just wait. And wait, getting more and more on edge as waves of electric adrenalin flowed thru the massive crowd who, as wound up as a Cup Final mob, kept breaking sporadically into roars of “ANGUS, ANGUS…”

Dimming house light doubled the hoarse hollers; thousands of faces broke into broad grins as lights exploded like cluster bombs and from nowhere that one ton bronze bell rang out its sombre greeting. The onslaught had begun, and so had my dilemma. How do you do justice to a phenomenon as massive, enjoyable and thoroughly unpretentious as AC/DC? How do you account for their worldwide ascension to Rock’s Superleague?

Dependability is part of it. That they deliver live is more than just a fan’s boast — it’s the band’s central tenet. A poor show from AC/DC is as likely as a snowstorm in the Sahara. They abound with energy, generating enough power to light up Oxford Street all Xmas.

But energy alone doesn’t guarantee rock immortality. For that we have to look beyond their commitment to graft and value for money to discover the real secret of their universal appeal — basically, a goodtime cocktail of muscular musical simplicity, animal sexuality, a sweaty sense of spectacle, and an honest celebration of revelry, rebellion and teenage fantasy.

When General Boothe formed the Sally Army he said: “Why should the Devil have all the best tunes?” Why? Because rock doesn’t fit with the pious life, because nice boys don’t play rock’n’roll. The Baptist bigots knew that when they thundered against the ‘devil music’ of rock’s forefathers.

AC/DC sing about Hell a lot, but in the real r’n’r sense of hell-raising rather than dodgy devil worship. Like Tarbuck’s old telly vision of Hell as 24 hour pubs and limitless nookie, it’s all good clean escapism, and that’s the key to why schoolboy Angus is such a potent fantasy figure. It’s a cross between the Hulk principle of the beast within and the If dream of wasting adult oppressors. What schoolkid doesn’t ache to get even with teachers and parents, and doesn’t dream of getting famous, running amok and pulling naughty women? Angus doesn’t wear stack heels and layers of make-up — hey, he could be me.

In 1982 the church has got Cliff and the boys have got AC/DC. And in Brum the irresistible toll of ‘Hell’s Bell’ has given way to the cocky bravado of ‘COD’. Stocky Beano, the Andy Capp of ‘Ard Rock, toasts the crowd and gives his beer away. For a hard drinking man this is no casual gesture, but Angus still steals the show. Resplendent in new red blazer he duckwalks and careers round the stage from the off, an appetizer for the epileptic athletics to come.

You don’t notice Malcolm, Phil or Cliff so often, but you can sure as hell hear ’em. Cliff’s power bass and the steady thud of Rudd the Stud’s drums make for a rhythm section of massive authority, while Malcolm riffs away like there’s no tomorrow, a solid lynchpin for the Angus’ pyrotechnics and Beano’s gutsy vocals.

‘Sin City’ swaggers into ‘Shoot To Thrill’, this moving tale of ‘too many women and too many pills’ punctuated with mighty handclaps on rent from the Kop. And then they drop a gear for ‘Back In Black’, their mindboggling energy compressed into solid slabs of noise, as slow and heavy as a stomping brontosaurus.

Bluesy guitar rings out of the darkness, the opening for ‘Bad Boy Boogie’ and an orgy of Angus theatricals that carry on with his sexy strip and stack-climbing frenzies in ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution’ and right until the end with a death-defying run through the crowd during ‘Highway To Hell’ and blinding set-closer ‘Let There Be Rock’. In between there’s the essential stamp of ‘Let’s Get It Up’, ‘Dirty Deeds’ faster and thicker than the record and rip-roaring fantasy of ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’.

It’s only blues-soaked rock’n’roll, but is it potent! There’s no chance of stopping now. They’re back for terrace anthem ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’ and the irresistible surge of ‘For Those About To Rock’. I’m suddenly aware of the mighty cannons above the stage, just as the first explosion rings out. Sod that for a game of soldiers, those things look lethal.

After that the second encore could only be ‘TNT’, all the way from ‘High Voltage’ and you may recall possibly the original Oi! song. With thousands of throats punctuating the dynamite dingdong with that popular terrace shout, I was as close to heaven as a man can get this side of a bit part in Coronation Street.

The chill of the Brummy night air could do nothing to dispel the warm glow the concert had left inside. Sorry Sally Anne, the Devil has still got all the best tunes!

© Garry BushellSounds, 9 October 1982

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