After an extended delay because of the departure of the band’s longtime lead singer Brian Johnson, the latest incarnation of AC/DC arrived in Buffalo on Sunday night and performed a marathon set worthy of the band’s legacy. Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose handled vocal duties while Angus Young took centerstage.
For curiosity seekers who wondered if Rose could successfully handle the AC/DC catalogue, they were treated to a remarkable vocal performance. Whether he was singing a Bon Scott- or Brian Johnson-era song, Rose seemed to find the perfect balance between his style and that of the original singers.
In the history of rock bands there have been few lead singer replacements that are comparable. One might cite Van Halen replacing David Lee Roth with Sammy Hagar, or Black Sabbath replacing Ozzy Osbourne with Ronnie James Dio, but both Dio and Hagar were able to sing their own material along with songs made famous by their predecessors. Rose did not have that luxury.
Rose seemed right at home with the AC/DC material, and appeared to appreciate the fact that even though he is a rock megastar in his own right, his role in AC/DC is simply as a band member, not a frontman who dominates the show.
As for the band, drummer Chris Slade, who replaced Phil Rudd, and Stevie Young in place of Malcolm Young both added a new flavor to the band’s sound. Slade, who was the band’s drummer from 1989-1994, pounded away at the kit driving the band with fierce intensity and was in lock step with bassist Cliff Williams all night.
The set was a great cross-section of the band’s catalogue, with a heavy dose of AC/DC’s magnum opus, “Back in Black.” In addition to the hits and the album’s title cut they added the album tracks “Have a Drink on Me” and “Given the Dog a Bone.”
As expected, AC/DC rolled out their playbook of special effects including a giant bell descending from the rafters for “Hells Bells,” a row of cannons on “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)” and the giant blowup doll during “Whole Lotta Rosie.”
Visually, the show was all about Angus Young and his ability to work a crowd without saying a word. Throughout the night Angus pranced around the stage without missing a note, only stopping to egg the crowd on.
On “Let There Be Rock” Young played an extended guitar solo, at one point hoisted up on a platform in the middle of the arena while confetti cannons filled the air, then appearing on his massive stack of Marshall amps.
Musically the band gelled well, especially considering they had only been playing together for less than a year. Rose’s performance was understated but he still had a commanding stage presence. Stevie Young and Cliff Williams were always in the right place at the right time, often walking in unison up to their microphones to sing backing vocals right on cue.
The two and a half hour set is longer than what fans have been used to in recent years, and included standout performances of “If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It)” and “Sin City.” The hits received the type of audience response one would expect but the deep cuts from the early days really resonated with the audience.
The crowd was well behaved and receptive, many of them wore red flashing devil horns which provided a unique backdrop for the show. Most of the fans were clad in black AC/DC shirts.
The band only has a few more dates left but they have proven that Rose can handle the material and if they recorded Sunday’s show it would be make for a great live album. It remains to be seen whether or not Rose continues with AC/DC or not, bassist Cliff Williams has already stated this is his last tour, so if AC/DC comes around again they may have two new members.
There was an intensity in Angus’ performance that was palatable, perhaps because he realizes that these last few American dates almost didn’t happen.
AC/DC is a band that has had its share or tragedies and setbacks and managed to continue to deliver their hard driving brand of rock music. Through it all, Angus has stayed true to that school boy image and still looks and sounds like a kid in a rock n’ roll band.
Thom Jennings covers the local music scene for the Niagara Gazette.