At this point in the band's long and ragged career, going to an AC/DC show is much like watching It’s a Wonderful Life at Christmas. It’s warm, familiar, and you can recite line after line, possibly to the annoyance of the person sitting next to you.
To its fans, an AC/DC show is like visiting an old friend, albeit a drunk, sex-obsessed friend who would as soon tap you for $5 as look at you. Still, this friend drives the best car in the neighborhood and knows where all the bad girls hang out.
At the Pepsi Center on Monday night, the band was largely in fine form. Yes, rhythm guitarist and founding member Malcolm Young is missing due to debilitating dementia, and that is inarguably a huge loss. But thanks to Stevie Young, the nephew of Malcolm and Angus (although he’s only a couple of years younger), the wheels haven’t fallen off the machine.
In fact, new album Rock or Bust, which features Stevie on rhythm, is more than an AC/DC-by-the-numbers, going-through-the-motions effort. There are some exciting little rock-and-roll anthems on there, including the title track, which opened the show in Denver.
But, look, it doesn’t matter how better-than-crap the new record is; nobody was walking into the Pepsi Center saying, “I can’t wait to hear that new material tonight.” Nope, it’s the classics that an AC/DC crowd wants, and the band delivered.
All-time hits, including “Thunderstruck,” “High Voltage,” “Hells Bells,” “You Shook Me All Night Long,” “TNT” and “Whole Lotta Rose," came and went in what seemed like the blink of an eye. “Givin the Dog a Bone,” from 1980’s Back in Black, was a rare treat, as the song hadn’t been played live since the year of its release. Angus’s solo at the end of an awesome “Let There Be Rock” dragged on a bit while the other bandmembers inexplicably twiddled their thumbs behind him before leaving the stage when he was done. It was the last action before the encores.
For those encores, “Highway to Hell” saw the band reappear – Angus rising up from the ground and Brian Johnson bounding out sporting a crowd-pleasing Broncos jersey. The closing, “For Those About to Rock,” featured its usual booming cannons.
The show was huge. We got the giant Hell’s Bell descending from the ceiling and the inflatable Rosie. We got Angus’s duck walks, fire, confetti and thousands of devil horns. We got perfect rock anthems galore. So here comes the catch.
Man, these guys are getting up there in years. It seems cruel to point it out, because Angus and Brian, in particular, put so much energy and effort into the show. But Johnson is missing a lot of those high notes nowadays. Each song looked a little more like a strain on him than the one before it. Angus shredded as he always has, and he didn’t let the energy levels drop for a second. But as the smoke cleared after the final note of “For Those About to Rock,” the man looked, well, wrecked.
An old AC/DC is still one of the best live bands on the megadome circuit. They’re not done yet, and one suspects that they’ll soldier on until they’re damn well ready to drop. There’s still sweat and energy to be wrung out of the old bones. But amid all the joy and bluster of the show, there were also stark reminders that eventually all of our heroes get old.