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It's safe to say that no one, upon starting a rock 'n' roll band, considers the implications of continuing into old age. Mick Jagger famously said that he couldn't imagine playing “Satisfaction” at 30. Now look at him. Riding that protracted tongue all the way to the AARP jamboree. And you better believe getting “no satisfaction” means something completely different at 65 than it did 40 years earlier.
But if Mick is still trying to squeeze into those “Sticky Fingers” jeans today makes us throw up in our mouth a little, sweet Jesus, Angus! What began as a scam, a funny back-story to generate press and interest — the guitar-playing prodigy schoolboy — now reads just plain grotesque. The man's 53 (old only in rock 'n' roll years) and fit, but his skin's clearly not seen the light of day since the Reagan administration. Most of what he does on stage involves some kind of sexual metaphor or, more often than not, a pantomime of some sex act, which was probably edgy in the '80s, when he was impish and taut, but now, still impish but in a freed-from-the-hospital-gown kind of way, he looks almost pederast-y.
I bring all that up both because it affords a window into the band's unflagging commitment to a formula and as a testament to the man's stunning skill as a performer. I didn't gag once.
Aside from a few new bells and whistles, I'd venture AC/DC's stage show has remained virtually unchanged in the last two decades. Phil Rudd remains rock's unfussiest drummer, unyieldingly keeping that 4/4 time and stepping heavy on his kick drum. Onstage, he's the rock, rear center atop risers, with Malcolm Young (guitar) and Cliff Williams (bass) anchored on his sides, like twin gargoyles. Lead singer Brian Johnson, still looking like an E Street Band castoff, with his sleeveless shirt and flat cap, struts around the stage like a peacock. And Angus, all 5'2” of him, uses just about every bit of the rest of the stage for duck walking, pirouetting, scampering, sliding and, generally whirling dervishly. Surely, he's rock's most active guitarist. Even standing still, he can't help but shake a leg as he solos.
Early in the show, after a cheesy animation of the AC/DC “Rock 'n' Roll Train” (a question for the ages: Why are the animations at arena shows so routinely terrible?) that morphed into a giant train wreck set piece, it became clear that the only depleted element of the band is Brian Johnson's voice. The man's 61, but I can't imagine he was ever able to maintain his cat-in-heat vocal delivery live even as a young man. Small matter. He still screams, and that was enough to get us through the hits, which came, pretty much without exception. “Back in Black.” “Dirty Deeds.” “Thunderstruck.” “Hells Bells.” “War Machine.” “You Shook Me.” “TNT.” “Highway to Hell.” Songs you should know by heart if only by virtue of going to car races and football games. Plus, new ones from the Wal-Mart album that sound close enough to the classics that head bobbing isn't disrupted.
The first set ended with “Let There Be Rock,” which segued into about a 15-minute guitar solo by Angus. The band's been playing the same set throughout its tour, and pre-show a buddy read it off to me. We were both incredulous about a guitar solo ending the set. Even with Angus, that sounds kind of anticlimactic.
Damn were we wrong. For that quarter hour, everyone — many wearing little blinking novelty horns — stood slack-jawed as the little shirtless devil (the school boy uni comes off in pieces throughout the set of course) played exceedingly fast, often one handed, while bobbing and foot-tapping and sprinting across the stage and, at the pinnacle of the solo, spasming on the floor and spinning himself around in a circle. All without missing a note. He may be deranged, but the man is a marvel.