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AC/DC @ QSAC, Brisbane, 12.11.2015: Is it OK to Like AC/DC?

AC/DC @ QSAC, Brisbane, 12.11.2015: Is it OK to Like AC/DC?
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Rock or Bust
We be a guitar band
We play across the land
Shootin’ out tonight
Gonna keep you up alright

I’ll wager that almost every review you read of one of these Australian AC/DC shows will be written by a male reviewer. Chances are that they were also probably born in the 1970s and a high proportion of them will have reached their teen years during the mid-1980s. It’s also fairly likely that quite a few of them will have beards. There’s something about AC/DC that will forever be connected to those obligatory teen metal years that a generation of schoolboys went through, a mandatory soundtrack to growing up in the 1980s.

Shoot to Thrill
All you women who want a man of the street
But you don’t know which way you want to turn
Just keep a coming and put your hand out to me
‘Cause I’m the one who’s gonna make you burn

Don’t get me wrong, in making these generational generalisms, I’m counting myself in their numbers. As someone who was still a teenager yet to start university when ‘Thunderstruck’ came out, I’ve listened to my fair share of the band’s songs over the last 30 years and include their albums in my record collection. But reading all the reviews published to date, there’s a unanimous uniformity to the superlatives and platitudes. As for me, the closer the day of the show approached, the more I started asking myself questions.

Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be
Sometimes I think this woman is kinda hot
Sometimes I think this woman is sometimes not
Puts me down, fools me around
What’s she doing to me?
Out for satisfaction, any piece of action
That ain’t the way it should be
She needs love, smells out a man
She’s gotta see
Pours my beer, licks my ear
Brings out the devil in me

This is a band with a somewhat limited repertoire when it comes to subject matter and lyrical content. Fast living and even faster women are at the core of so many of AC/DC’s songs. I mean you have your songs about the sanctity of rock music itself (‘For Those About To Rock’, ‘Let There Be Rock’, ‘Long Way To The Top’, ‘Rock Or Bust’, etc), a fair number of numbers about Hell (‘Highway to Hell’, ‘Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be’, ‘Hells Bells’, etc) and plenty of puns about balls (‘Big Balls’, ‘She’s Got Balls’, ‘Play Ball’, etc).

Back in Black
Back in black
I hit the sack
I’ve been too long I’m glad to be back
Yes, I am
Let loose
From the noose
That’s kept me hanging about

Even when the title might not imply it, the Number One inspiration for AC/DC’s songs is clearly women. From ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ to ‘Love At First Feel’, from ‘Sink The Pink’ to ‘Can I Sit Next To You Girl’ to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’ to ‘What Do You Do For Money’. Most of their songs, the overriding majority of Black In Black, one of the world’s top selling albums is about women. This isn’t a band that’s really sophisticated enough for double entendres. It’s base and bawdry stuff, where women are unequivocally objectified and exist in AC/DC’s world solely for one purpose.

Play Ball
Listen!
Pick me up
Fill my cup
Pour me another round
Come on in, mix in the sin
Come in and join the crowd

All of this meant that the overriding question I kept coming back to was “Is it actually ok to like AC/DC?”

Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
If you got a lady but you want her gone
But you ain’t got the guts
She keeps naggin’ at you night and day
Enough to drive you nuts –
Pick up the phone
Leave her alone
It’s time you made a stand
For a fee I’ll be happy to be
Your back door man
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

These are dark days for musicians, times when you can be refused a working visit to play shows in Australia due to the nature of your lyrics. While there’s obviously a vast difference in the level of nastiness between the lyrics of Tyler The Creator and AC/DC, there’s unlikely to be much in the way of a challenge from Australian reviewers writing about an ‘Australian’ act (note: questioning the nationality of AC/DC is one of the easiest way to wind up any Australian music fan). After all, the two rules of the Australian music press are, 1. Don’t rock the boat, and 2. Everyone gets three stars (minimum). Do AC/DC get an easier ride than some black US hip hop stars might when it comes to the words in their songs?

Thunderstruck
Went down the highway
Broke the limit, we hit the town
Went through to Texas, yeah Texas
And we had some fun
We met some girls
Some dancers who gave a good time
Broke all the rules, played all the fools
Yeah, yeah, they, they, they blew our minds

How many bands can really pull off a stadium show? Not many, for sure. Even when they do, you can’t but scale it down in your imagination. Imagine what this would be like in front of 5,000 rather than 50,000. Imagine what this would be like in front of 1,000 people. Imagine what this would be like in a 250 capacity venue. To be fair to AC/DC they do a pretty good job, it’s just that if you’re seeing a band play a stadium, you’re not seeing or hearing them in anywhere near the best environment.

High Voltage
Well you ask me ’bout the clothes I wear
And you ask me why I grow my hair
And you ask me why I’m in a band
I dig doin’ one night stands

It might be a very, very big stage, complete with walkways at each side and a runway out into the crowd (only raised up and used in the last few songs) but there’s isn’t a square inch of it that isn’t covered by Angus Young. It’s the Angus Young show through-and-through. At times the spotlight is shared with Brian Johnson but even when you’ve been the singer in the band for more than 35 years, you know when you need to withdraw to the back of the stage.

Rock ‘N’ Roll Train
One hot southern belle
Son of a devil
School boy’s spelling bee
A school girl with a fantasy

Something happens during ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Train’. I’m not sure what it is but it renders the song into a bit of a tuneless dirge. Somethings clashing with something and it’s not melodic or harmonic, especially not during the choruses.

Hells Bells
I’m a rolling thunder, a pouring rain
I’m comin’ on like a hurricane
My lightning’s flashing across the sky
You’re only young but you’re gonna die

Down to only one original member, there has been much talk that this will be the last time they tour. This isn’t a band playing in the best environment but it’s also not a band in its prime, even though the latest album, Rock Or Bust has more than its fair share of moments and was well deserving of its positive reviews. However, even in 2009 Brian Johnson was saying that he would hang up his microphone come the day he is unable to perform for a whole show. ‘Hells Bells’ needs that screechy vocal delivery, it just doesn’t sound right when Johnson drops down an octave and sings the words in the lower range. With the band’s singer now being 68, you would expect him to be in his mid-70s by the time the next cycle of album and tour comes around. Knowing that, it’s hard to see them back out for more shows once this tour finishes.

Baptism by Fire
Hey, ooh
Let’s get the party started
And lemme do your tricks
Ooh yeah
Let’s get the joint jumping
The boys need their kicks

When you listen to an album, particularly a good one, there’s a sense of unity, even though there might be one or two members of a band more important than the others in the general scheme of things, for some reason or other. For all the schoolboy uniforms, duck walks and guitar solos, AC/DC’s greatest attribute has always been its rhythm section. Even though the band’s engine room has seen changes over the years, no more so than with the two enforced changes in personnel that have been forced on the band since the last time they toured, it still feels slightly unfitting to see the bassist Cliff Williams and rhythm guitarist Stevie Young quarantined to the very back of the stage on either side of drummer Chris Slade. The only time they venture forward is to add their backing vocals via the mic stands located about two-thirds of the stage width from the front, moving back to their designated positions as soon as they’ve finished singing. It’s a move so choreographed and synchronised, it looks more like a contractual obligation. Admittedly, this is the first time I’ve ever seen the band and it looks like it’s been par for the course for a while and possibly accentuated by the size of this stage. A live performance is about engagement and nothing is better than having a band spread out across the front of the stage. Having three-fifths of the band largely consigned to the shadows, means you lose that visual impact from the stage itself.

You Shook Me All Night Long
She was a fast machine
She kept her motor clean
She was the best damn woman I had ever seen
She had the sightless eyes
Telling me no lies
Knockin’ me out with those American thighs

If you thought ‘Titty Cam’ had been consigned to the Dustbin of History, you were wrong. If I recall correctly, even Motely Crue decided that it was no longer an acceptable practice in 2015, and having included in their penultimate tour dropped it from their last set of shows earlier this year. Yet here it is in all its ‘Tits out for the lads’ ‘glory’, making an unwanted appearance during both ‘Dirty Deeds’ and ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.

For the uninitiated, the cameras relaying the images to the big screens that adorn the stage zoom in on a women in the crowd with the expectation that they’re going to whip their top off and expose themselves in widescreen glory to the gathered 50,000. I end up going to both Brisbane shows and whereas there’s no end of women happy to partake on the Thursday night, there’s not a single flash of female flesh on the Saturday night. I guess Saturday had a much higher class of punter.

Male-rock radio station Triple M might have written that “…by the end of the set, I think one lady just removed her top all together to the delight of the crowd” but this obviously isn’t true. One day, hopefully very soon, we’ll see the demise of titty cam once and for all.

Sin City
Diamonds and dust
Poor man last, rich man first
Lamborghinis, caviar
Dry martinis, Shangri-La

The setlist the band play is the same twenty songs played in the same order as they played at the Sydney shows, and the same as they will play at the second show on Saturday night. After the three tracks from the new album, 2008’s ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Train’ means it’s an 18 year gap to the next oldest song, 1990’s ‘Thunderstruck’ and then another decade back to 1981’s ‘For Those About To Rock’, Of the twenty songs played tonight (and every other night), fourteen are at least 35 years old and most were included in the shows the band played in support of Back In Black during 1980-81.

Shot Down in Flames
Out on the town, looking for a woman
Gonna give me good love
Anybody want to hand off me
And give me plenty of
She was standing alone over by the jukebox
Like she’s something to sell
I said, baby what’s the going price?
She told me to go to hell

Last year I saw Springsteen play a Brisbane show on an Australian tour when he and his band played more than 120 different songs. Playing the same twenty songs in the same order night-after night is pretty lazy, most stadium bands might have a fairly rigid setlist but there’s usually a handful of songs that get rotated in and out, freshening things up and giving something to the fans who go to multiple shows on the same tour. There’s plenty of songs that the band could bring in, and although the 1980s might have seen them in decline, there’s still some great stuff on Flick Of The Switch and Fly On The Wall that’s been much maligned and largely ignored for the last 30 years.

Have a Drink on Me
Whiskey, gin and brandy
With a glass I’m pretty handy
I’m trying to walk a straight line
On sour mash and cheap wine
So join me for a drink boys
We’re gonna make a big noise

If this is their last hurrah, will they be universally missed or is there a something that might be approaching at least a sizeable minority who are going to be happily waving goodbye to a band they consider sexist dinosaurs.

TNT
I’m dirty, mean and mighty unclean
I’m a wanted man
Public enemy number one
Understand
So lock up your daughter
Lock up your wife
Lock up your back door
And run for your life
The man is back in town
Don’t you mess me ’round

Growing up in the 80s, so much mainstream rock was about fast living, fast women, is rock music poorer because a new band would probably never get away with some of the lyrics they may have back in then in this age of social media shaming? Unless they were over-exaggerating it, playing it just for laughs, making it into one big parody, like Steel Panther or The Darkness, would any rock band seriously pushing 70s/80s rock music attitudes just be think-pieced out of existence before they even got started?

Whole Lotta Rosie
Wanna tell you story
About woman I know
When it comes to lovin’
She steals the show
She ain’t exactly pretty
Ain’t exactly small
Fourty two, thirty nine, fifty six
You could say she’s got it all

I guess ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ could be classed as your archetypal AC/DC classic. The true tale about a one night stand with an obese Tasmanian woman, it comes complete with its very own piece of staging in the form of a giant, inflatable “Rosie“. A buxom inflatable woman in her underwear, with dollar bills stuffed in her bra and ripped stockings. Great guitar riff though.

Let There Be Rock
In the beginning
Back in nineteen fifty five
Man didn’t know about a rock ‘n’ roll show
And all that jive
The white man had the smoltz
The black man had the blues
No one knew what they was gonna do
But Tchaikovsky had the news

There’s never been a live solo spot in the history of live rock music that hasn’t been totally self-indulgent and overlong. Angus Young’s guitar solo at the end of ‘Let There Be Rock’ is long but it’s also the absolute highlight of the show. As utterly wrong as it sounds, there’s just something so thrilling seeing a 60 year old man dressed up in a schoolboy uniform playing at the end of a runway into the crowd and then being raised up into the air high above the crowd on a small platform. Once returned to ground level, it’s a sprint along the runway back to the main stage area before suddenly appearing atop of the row of Marshall amps lined up across the stage to continue his soloing. Slightly ridiculous, stupidly brilliant.

Highway to Hell
Living easy, living free
Season ticket on a one-way ride
Asking nothing, leave me be
Taking everything in my stride
Don’t need reason, don’t need rhyme
Ain’t nothing I’d rather do
Going down, party time
My friends are gonna be there too, yeah

For Those about to Rock (We Salute You)
Stand up and be counted
For what you are about to receive
We are the dealers
We’ll give you everything you need
Hail hail to the good times
’cause rock has got the right of way
We ain’t no legend, ain’t no cause
We’re just livin’ for today

There’s much to love in the music of AC/DC. It’s always had that close link to 1950’s rock ‘n’ roll as well as having that raw, primal, stripped down sound that allies it close to punk. There’s some impressive guitar playing and a wonderful rhythm section to admire. There’s some amazing songs, so many to be fair. But there’s also much to seriously question, if not outright dislike about the music of AC/DC, mostly focussed on those lyrics, the causal sexism and all those neanderthal macho tendencies. In light of recent visa entry issues for certain US acts, (misogynists of colour as one friend described them), is there a line beyond which artistic expression can always be justified? Or do musicians in 2015 have a social responsibility when it comes to lyrics? And if those lyrics come from a different time, should those songs still be celebrated the way they are?

Or is it ok to enjoy the puerility of it all? Is it just light-hearted, tongue in cheek, good times that shouldn’t be taken seriously or get too bothered about? After all, the now 60 year old lead guitarist still plays in a schoolboy uniform? Are AC/DC basically the musical equivalent of the Carry On films. Something that future generations (or maybe even current generations) will look at with a wry smile, a shake of the head and a “How did they ever get away with this?”

AC/DC isn’t the sort of place where Collapse Board normally goes so I’m hoping that no one is really offended by even considering covering them. As with a lot of these things it’s because I always love the thought of what 15 year old me would say if I told him that one day he would be photographing all these bands he was listening to and loving. While teenage me loved this band, the current version of me has an increasing level of discomfort when rationalising it all. Maybe the trick is to just not think about it too much. On one hand, brilliant, on the other, appalling.

So tell me, is it ok to like AC/DC?

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