AC/DC: Wembley Arena, London

HOWARD STERN spoke for millions of AC/DC fans when quoting from the band’s current album Stiff Upper Lip: “I was born with a stiff! These guys are fucking geniuses!”

In keeping with Stern’s appraisal, an AC/DC show remains what it has always been: a celebration of rock’n’roll as fun, plain and simple, the louder and dumber the better. And loud it certainly is. Unofficial reports from the first of two nights at Wembley Arena place the noise level around the 140-decibel mark — that’s a Nigel Tufnel-approved 11 louder than Manowar’s Guinness World Record-breaking 1994 concert, and possibly illegal. Not that anyone is complaining. It’s not really an AC/DC gig if you are not deafened.

Pure volume aside, the band’s enduring power is astonishing. AC/DC still comprise the same five resolutely unglamorous blokes who recorded Back In Black 20 years ago. Drummer Paul Rudd pissed off to fly helicopters in New Zealand for a decade, but he’s been back five years now, and it’s business as usual for the best hard rock band on the planet. While others hire and fire, split and reform, AC/DC just keep plugging away. The ‘DC don’t make a fuss. Simply, they rock.

Dispensing with the showy entrances of previous tours (in 1996 they emerged, comically, through a crashing wall), the band now stroll on-stage and bang out ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’, their hit single of 1980. With the house lights still up and 10,000 people shouting the chorus, it’s one big party. Air guitar, two-finger devil-signs and the waving of plastic cups full of warm beer are mandatory. ‘Stiff Upper Lip’ is the cue for the first daft prop, a 20-foot faux-bronze statue of guitarist Angus Young wobbling above Phil Rudd, with smoking mouth and flashing red eyes that wouldn’t scare a child. The song thumps along as AC/DC songs have done for a quarter of a century. Nothing changes in ‘DC World.

Stiff Upper Lip is a dependably crunchy LP but only two new songs make the cut, the second a romp through the Chuck Berry-inspired ‘Safe In New York City’. But AC/DC do delight older fans by dusting down ‘Get It Hot’, a much-loved album track from 1979’s Highway To Hell with a throbbing rhythm and a cheeky reference to Barry Manilow.

For pure riffing power and sheer balls, AC/DC are without equal. ‘Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be’ or ‘Shoot To Thrill’ can, for a few minutes, transform a 34-year-old father of three into a greasy teenager. Never mind Angus’s school uniform — everyone feels like a kid at an AC/DC gig, not least singer Brian Johnson, who swings on a bell rope at the start of ‘Hells Bells’ like a boy in his parents’ back garden. Thirty or more years of tab-smoking have reduced Johnson’s voice to a thin rasp, but this doesn’t stop him sneaking off to the wings for a crafty fag while Angus stripteases during ‘Bad Boy Boogie’. Rudd also enjoys a mid-set ciggie, lit by an attentive roadie and then expertly placed between the drummer’s lips as he thuds away. No such luxuries for Angus. Now 45, his hair thinning, he remains the hardest working man in showbusiness,

duckwalking here, rolling around on his back there, wrenching an almighty racket from his trademark Gibson SG and perspiring in a manner rarely seen outside Vietnam movies.

AC/DC made some terrible records in the late ’80s and early ’90s, hence a setlist featuring five songs from their last truly great LP, Back In Black, plus the best of the Bon Scott era. ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap’ is the perfect yob-rock anthem; only Eminem has written a funnier song about killing the missus.

To finish, AC/DC play half a dozen of the greatest hard rock songs ever written: ‘Highway To Hell, ‘Back In Black’, ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’, Let There Be Rock’, ‘T.N.T.’, ‘For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)’. Flames belch, cannons blast and the world’s largest blow-up doll bounces happily. Ticker tape fills the air as Brian Johnson bids a gruff farewell. Then these funny little men are off for a cuppa and more gaspers. That, frankly, is as good as a rock’n’roll show gets.

© Paul ElliottMOJO, February 2001

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