AC/DC: Verizon Center, Washington DC ****

Their album went Number 1 in 29 countries, so why would the greatest ever Australian band — still performing with a deranged intensity that belies their advancing years — want to change a winning formula?

IT’S THE WEEKEND of the G20 summit, with police motorcades cordoning off major thoroughfares in the US capital to allow the world’s leading financial brains — and George W Bush — rapid transit on their economic SOS. But for the 15,000 occupants of the Verizon Center, the pressing issue is not recession but inflation. As AC/DC’s Angus Young cranks up his signature refrain to ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’, a dirigible-scale blow-up doll emerges as a backdrop in only-slightly-larger-than-life depiction of the song’s (cough) titular “heroine”. Rosie’s been a feature of AC/DC shows for many years, but, in possibly an oblique comment on the boom-and-bust dynamic of global capitalism, this particular model’s charms are super-sized, and on the verge of smothering Phil Rudd.

This is a worrying development, given that, as AC/DC’s drummer, Rudd is an under-heralded but vital component in this supreme rock’n’roll pantomime. Rudd responds by clamping his jaws ever tighter upon his latest cigarette and fixing his mind on important matters. The next song is set closer ‘Let There Be Rock’, and Rosie’s replaced by a video screen presentation of the band throughout their 35-year history. With his hair shorter than of yore, and now sporting a decidedly agricultural pair of sideburns, more than ever Rudd resembles what he actually is: the only Australian-born member of the greatest ever Australian band. Were he to look up for a second, straight ahead he’d see Angus sprinting along a walkway into the crowd, the guitarist’s tiny fingers in perpetual riff motion; far right he’d spot singer Brian Johnson grabbing a crafty gasp on a roll-up; and to his immediate left and right, his partners in rhythm, bassist Cliff Williams and guitarist Malcolm Young, the still-beating, ever-honest heart of AC/DC.

Phil Rudd chews his fag and locates the pocket. There’s the rock. G’night.

Economies may rise and fall, but like a gnarly group of middle-aged Duracell bunnies, AC/DC just keep… on… going. Exactly how, you struggle to imagine. Brian Johnson is 61, his voice now the texture of shredded asphalt. Damned with faint praise since he replaced the late Bon Scott in 1980, the fact remains that this band only became an arena fixture with him on board, and at such industrial levels of amplification, “Beano”‘s mauled-moggie shriek fits AC/DC’s thermonuclear blues beautifully. While Angus’s fret theatrics command the attention, in his trademark cap Johnson reinforces the band’s fair-dinkum ethos with his guileless cavorting: he resembles a builder playing air guitar with a pool cue. Which of course unites him with pretty much every man, woman and child present.

Indeed, with so many children in attendance, all merrily hollering about sexually transmitted disease as Angus sheds his blue velvet school uniform during ‘The Jack’, it’s clear that AC/DC’s legend now transcends gender, age and outmoded notions of indecency. The problems, if any exist for a band currently with a Number 1 album in 29 countries, arise from the side-effects of institutionalisation. Despite Johnson declaring, “We’re gonna mix it up”, two-thirds of the set comprises a core of songs AC/DC seem honour-bound to play beyond the grave. No one’s suggesting they retire ‘Back In Black’ but including, say, ‘Rock’N’Roll Damnation’ instead of ‘Shoot To Thrill’ would represent smart business. And beyond the cut-glass genius of ‘Rock’N’Roll Train’ and the rollicking ‘Big Jack’, new album Black Ice can’t really demand a further three selections while 2000’s superior predecessor Stiff Upper Lip merits none.

Such issues barely register in the midst of the tumult,however, and the explanation for that lies not with hammy pyrotechnics or preposterous volume but the sheer age-confounding rigour of the band itself. Standing staunch next tohis brother and comrades, 53-year-old Angus Young solos ‘Let There Be Rock’ home, oblivious to the perspiration drenching his pallid, scrawny frame. He’s done this goodness knows how many times before, and his bank balance must baldly state he never needs to do it again. Yet AC/DC continue to play at these demented levels of intensity, maybe compelled by supernatural forces, or perhaps simply a working man’s pride in a job well done. In this age of crunching credit, it’s good to have something upon which to rely.

© Keith CameronQ, February 2009

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