NEW YORK — It was a rare opportunity to stand in the face of giants.
On Tuesday night, fresh from their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, AC/DC crammed their stadium-rattling sound into the relatively cozy confines of Roseland Ballroom (see "Gwen, Steven Tyler Sing With Police; AC/DC Shake The Waldorf; Kurt Loder Reports From The Rock Hall Induction"). The Australian force has been playing arenas and theaters for the better part of the last 30 years, but that evening the band went slumming (comparatively speaking), performing for a crowd of roughly 3,000 contest winners and music industry insiders.
While the locale was smaller, the band still served up the trademark larger-than -life thunder that has made AC/DC synonymous with driving stadium rock. The free show was billed as the group's only U.S. show this year, and the brothers Young and company seemed to cram a full tour's worth of energy into their hour-and-a-half-long set.
Along with super-sized sound and energy, the band also brought its familiar stage roles from the stadium to the club. Guitarist Angus Young, sporting his requisite schoolboy outfit, duck-walked and lurched across the stage while contorting his face with each lick. Frontman Brian Johnson — tucked, as always, under a black cap — stalked the stage and worked the crowd like a chatty pub owner.
"You know the words to these ones, do you?" Johnson joked after cranking out "Back in Black," the title track from the sixth biggest-selling album of all time.
The group even trotted out a few familiar set pieces usually reserved for larger venues. A giant bell descended from the ceiling at the beginning of "Hell's Bells" and Angus pranced through his usual striptease during the breakdown of "The Jack." However, the bulk of the night's oomph was provided solely by the music.
Backed by a simple drum riser and a wall of amps, AC/DC delivered a set thick with hits, yet peppered with surprises. As always, favorites like "Back in Black," "Highway to Hell," and "You Shook Me All Night Long" were powerfully rendered, but from the unconventional opener "Hell Ain't a Bad Place to Be," it was clear that the band had at least a few curveballs in its arsenal. Chances are even the most die-hard AC/DC fan didn't expect to hear three cuts off of 1978's overlooked Powerage, but those tracks were woven seamlessly together with well-worn stadium anthems ("Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap," "T.N.T.," "Highway to Hell") and more recent material ("Stiff Upper Lip"). Thanks to steadfast dedication to a fistful of power chords throughout their career, one anthem flowed smoothly to the next as if they were all cooked up during the same insanely productive recording session in 1976.
That direct, simple, no -nonsense approach has helped the band to sell more than 140 million records worldwide over the last three decades. As the night indicated, the band isn't content to sit back and cash royalty checks. Much of the group's classic work has recently been remastered, repackaged and re-released, and the band plans to soon begin work on a new studio album.
That album could reach plenty of fresh ears, based on the crowd gathered at Roseland. While the audience was heavy on fans who likely saw AC/DC at least once before original vocalist Bon Scott passed in 1980 (many of them sporting AC/DC shirts older than most of the acts on this week's top 10), there was plenty of "fresh blood" on the floor of Roseland. The band's bluesy, ballsy rock hit young and old alike. There was the lanky teen boy clad in an oversized dress shirt, tie, and shorts (an homage to Angus' schoolboy get-up) pumping his fist and singing along. There was the teenage girl, sporting a tank top and a cap suspiciously like the one worn by Johnson, throwing her metal horns in the air and banging her head. There was the pocket of 30-something men, built like NFL linemen and decked out in Harley Davidson gear from head to toe, suddenly boogying like limber children. Hugs, hi-fives, and hearty slaps on the back replaced moshing as the standard form of expression, a sign of the outright glee that the band inspires.
Perhaps the following is as much a testament to the band's sound as it is to how they've used it. Unlike other rock journeymen, AC/DC have never reduced their songs to jingles, never collaborated with the flavor of the week and never plopped out a power ballad. They've simply served up 30 years of blues-rooted, fist-pumping rock, and in the process, they've made a strong case for claiming the title of the greatest rock band around.
AC/DC's set from March 11 at New York's Roseland Ballroom:
- "Hell Ain't a Bad Place to Be" (from 1977's Let
- There Be Rock)
- "Back in Black" (from 1980's Back In Black)
- "Stiff Upper Lip" (from 2000's Stiff Upper Lip)
- "Gone Shootin' " (from 1978's Powerage)
- "Thunderstruck" (from 1990's The Razor's Edge)
- "Rock & Roll Damnation" (from 1978's Powerage)
- "What's Next to the Moon" (from 1978's Powerage)
- "Hard As a Rock" (from 1995's Ballbreaker)
- "The Jack" (from 1976's High Voltage)
- "If You Want Blood" (from 1979's Highway To Hell)
- "Hell's Bells" (from 1980's Back In Black)
- "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" (from 1981's Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap)
- "Rock & Roll Ain't Noise Pollution" (from 1980's Back in Black)
- "Shoot to Thrill" (from 1980's Back In Black)
- "T.N.T." (from 1976's High Voltage)
- "Highway to Hell" (from 1979's Highway To Hell)
- "Whole Lotta Rosie" (from 1977's Let There Be Rock)
- "You Shook Me All Night Long" (from 1980's Back In Black)
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.