Thursday, February 18, 2016

Forever 'Young': At the UC, AC/DC Remains TNT with Perfectly Thunderous Show -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

w/ opening act
Tyler Bryant & the Shakedown
United Center, Chicago
February 17, 2016

AC/DC is like Taco Bell (but even better).

From a modicum of ingredients--a few cherished power chords, lyrics oft utilizing the words "Hell," "thunder" and "rock" (or "rock and roll")--the legendary Australian band has created, and recreated, a menu of indelible songs that may not excite the critics but make many people plenty happy.

And with myself as proof, delighted to return again and again.

Sure, their concert Wednesday at the United Center--coming just 5 months after I had seen AC/DC at Wrigley Field--offered only 2 songs I didn't hear in September ("Got Some Rock & Roll Thunder" off 2015's Rock or Bust, and Back in Black's "Givin' the Dog a Bone," supposedly dusted off on the 2016 tour leg for the first time since 1980).

Of the 20 songs played--following a genial if not sensational opening set by Nashville rockers Tyler Bryant & the Shakedown--12 are staples I've now heard at all five AC/DC concerts I've seen dating back to 2001, though the same could largely have been said at any point in the 1980s or '90s.

With the preponderance of tunes you know will be played--"Back in Black," "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap," "You Shook Me All Night Long," "T.N.T.," "Highway to Hell" and more--and the band's incessant use of the same gimmicks tour after tour (guitarist Angus Young's schoolboy outfit, the "Hells Bells" bell, a riser on which Angus gyrates during "Let There Be Rock," the cannons blasting on "For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)"), it might be easy to perceive something akin to a theatrical performance, or simply five old dudes going through the same old motions.

But here's the thing--and I get any presumed incredulity--not once during the 2 hours AC/DC was onstage did I ever feel like they were phoning it in.

About five songs in, not only were my friend Paolo and I discussing how incredible AC/DC sounded, but how obvious it was that this band of guys in their 60s--and though original guitarist Malcolm Young and longtime drummer Phil Rudd have been replaced on this tour by Stevie Young and Chris Slade, neither of the latter are youngsters--would blow any known band in their 20s off the stage.

Now 60, Angus still seems to take every show--and each moment within--with Tasmanian Devilish glee, and 68-year-old singer Brian Johnson (who replaced the late Bon Scott in 1980) sounds as good as ever while prowling the stage with demonstrable buoyancy.

Though quite content to let Johnson and Angus, along with some nice lighting and video cues, be the focal points, bassist Cliff Williams, Stevie Young--who is Angus & Malcolm's nephew though roughly the same age--and Slade, who brought the power all night despite pushing 70, were rock solid.

I still rue not having seen AC/DC in 1981 or '83, but I have no reason to believe they're not just as good now, if not even better.

Yes, they play the same songs they always have, but they're great songs that the audience--me included--always wants to hear. And they sound newly great each time.

Yes, all their songs sound essentially the same. But though deceptively simple, name another band--ever--that has sounded like AC/DC. And on Wednesday, I was struck by how well newer songs ("Rock or Bust," "Rock 'n' Roll Train") hold up amid the classics.

No, AC/DC has never gone much for stage patter; Johnson occasionally grunted things, but for the most part I couldn't tell what he said.

And no, the standard setlist wasn't augmented to pay tribute to Lemmy or Bowie, or the also recently passed Stevie Wright, singer for the Easybeats, a 1960s Australian band featuring George Young, the older brother of Angus and Malcolm.

But that's not who AC/DC is, or what they do.

And though I generally prefer the night-to-night setlist variances of Springsteen or Pearl Jam, or a bit of spontaneity that makes me feel what I'm getting in Chicago isn't an exact replica of what fans got in Detroit, with AC/DC my fandom is more about how well they do what they do.

Because, honestly, nobody does it better.


As someone who loves musical theater and the rigidity of that art form, I can tell you that despite numerous redundancies from show-to-show or even song-to-song, AC/DC was--again--about as good as rock 'n roll gets.

Believe me or not, but if you were there, I'm fairly sure you do.

I could even acutely feel my 12-year-old self intersecting with my 47-year-old self--likely in the midst of some dope air guitar flourishes--and couldn't tell you many more times when music, or life itself, felt this fun.

AC/DC, I salute you.

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