AC/DC welcomes those about to rock at show
By Matt Manochio, USA TODAY
Location: Wachovia Arena, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
Attendance: A sold-out crowd of 8,000
The event: Veteran Aussie rockers AC/DC launched the North American leg of their world tour Tuesday night in support of the band’s first studio album in eight years, Black Ice.
First in line: Kyle Friend, 20, of Freeport, stood in frigid winds outside the arena’s front door and has been an AC/DC fan “since I was 8 or 9. My first CD was Back in Black.”
Family jewels: Like many of the younger people in the crowd, Natalie Wasko, 14, of Scranton, got hooked on the band because of her parents. “I grew up liking them my dad loves them. It’s hereditary. I’m just hoping they play my favorite song, Big Balls.”
The merch: AC/DC-emblazoned long-sleeve denim jacket ($125), train engineer cap ($15), red flashing devil horns ($10), CDs, DVDs, more T-shirts than can be imagined.
Biggest fan: Brian Williams, 39, of Cleveland, who fit his 6-foot-4 frame into a replica of the schoolboy uniform (including the red knickers and tie) that guitarist Angus Young wears on stage. Williams’ wife, Dianna, made it for him in 2003. “I’m actually going to the first five shows of the tour, nine shows overall. This will be the 31st time I’ve seen them.” The bald Williams even stitched a ponytail onto his cap to complete the headbanger’s ensemble. As for the band’s allure: “It’s something you hold on to through all of your life. It brings you back to a better time.”
Opening act: The Answer, Northern Ireland’s answer to Led Zeppelin, apparently, because lead singer Cormac Neeson is doing his best to channel Robert Plant.
Riding into the arena: Lights go down and the crowd roars as a huge video monitor plays a cartoon of a freight train screaming down the rails. There’s enough sexual suggestion to make Hugh Hefner blush, what with animated strippers pulling all the levers while Angus throws coal into the furnace. The train reaches its destination and smoke pots boom as AC/DC saunters onto the stage. The tour kicks off with the Rock N Roll Train running right off the tracks.
Casual dress: Angus flies around the stage in his red schoolboy uniform. Brian Johnson is sporting a gray Gatsby cap it wouldn’t be an AC/DC show without it and a sleeveless black button-down, while rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young, bassist Cliff Williams and drummer Phil Rudd are in T-shirts and jeans. All is normal in the world.
Rock and “All right, you want to roll? Let’s get (expletive) going!” Johnson shrieks before launching into Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be.
The sound: The band is tight and loud. The floor is shaking. Crushing waves of sound boom from the walls of speakers on and overhanging the stage. Johnson’s vocal cords have got to be held together by dental floss at this point, but he sounds great, shrieking Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap and the stadium anthem Thunderstruck.
The stage: Williams and Malcolm anchor Rudd as he pounds away. A long catwalk extends into the audience so Johnson and Angus can strut up and down, belting out guitar solos or slapping hands with the fans. A circular platform juts out at the end and elevates Angus into the air so everyone in the building can see him wield his ax.
The songs: The band is cranking out new songs as much as the classics, including Big Jack, Black Ice, War Machine and Anything Goes.
Strippin’ and bell ringin’: Angus is showing some flesh, flashing his scrawny AC/DC underwear-covered bottom to the crowd as the band plays The Jack. Next up is the massive iron Hell’s Bell that’s lowered over the stage so Johnson can leap onto the dangling rope to clang it.
It’s a frat party!: Moms who were in college playing beer pong when You Shook Me All Night Long came out in 1980 are clapping, grooving and singing it with their kids. “Yeah, I knew you guys could sing!” Johnson tells the crowd.
Fire!: That big locomotive is shooting off fireballs and smoke as the band plays the skull-crushing TNT.
Strutting: Angus plays his guitar while holding it over his head during Let There Be Rock, furiously spinning himself in a circle on that elevated platform in the middle of the arena. And the 53-year-old will be doing this probably 100 times, every other night over the next six months. There’s no excuse not to take the stairs at work.
The end: “Good night! Thank you for sharing this special night with us,” Johnson yells. They’re not going anywhere; it’s time for encores. Sure enough, Angus pops up from a platform under the stage and rips out Highway to Hell. All 8,000 people, young and old, male and female, are screaming the song about the hellish life young bands lead on the open road. Killer Chuck Berry-esque guitar solo.
It’s not over: AC/DC’s songs all might sound the same, but they’re unique in their own way, like the unmistakable first chords of For Those About to Rock. Six Civil War cannons take their place on the stage speakers and belch out insanely loud explosions and smoke. It’s how they end all their shows. But it’s a great chaotic way to end the maelstrom.
Ears gone bad: The set was a tight 90 minutes (for $90 tickets, two hours would have been nice, but the guys are getting up there in age). The crowd filing out of the arena didn’t seem to mind, shouting to their friends and family because nobody can hear anything.
Next stops: Two shows in Chicago (Thursday and Saturday), then it’s on to Indianapolis (Monday).
Manochio reports for The Daily Record in Morris County, N.J.