AC/DC Review – Rock'n'roll Reduced To Its Purest Essence

It’s possible this might be the last time Britain ever gets to see AC/DC. Shorn of their de facto leader, Malcolm Young, whose dementia has caused him to retire, and with drummer Phil Rudd absent owing to his ongoing legal difficulties in New Zealand, it’s a different band that takes to the stage from the one that played this same stadium almost exactly six years ago. Malcolm’s nephew Stevie, a similarly gargoyleish presence, takes his place on rhythm guitar, while Chris Slade – who had a spell with the band in the 80s – replaces Rudd.

Age has withered them, a little. Singer Brian Johnson is these days content to let the giant bell that hangs above them during Hell’s Bells swing without him leaping on to a rope to swing with it, and there are times when he drops an octave to accomodate notes he can no longer reach. At 60, Angus Young’s removal of his school uniform reveals the body of a man far removed from his schooldays.

But the essence of AC/DC remains utterly unchanged. For all that the band, international superstars for 35 years, might live thousands of miles apart around the world, what they offer is something that countless rock’n’roll bands – from the Libertines through to today’s Palma Violets – have tried to copy: a celebration of mateship. There’s no homoeroticism in their version: it’s gloriously uncomplicated. Johnson slings his arm around Young’s shoulder; the band convene around the drum riser at the end of each song, leaving the vast stage seemingly unoccupied.

AC/DC Let there be rock … AC/DC at Wembley Stadium. Photograph: Jim Dyson/Getty Images

It’s there in the songs, too, which aren’t to be taken literally – they’re the tall tales told when men gather and alcohol is consumed. You can almost imagine the lyrics to Whole Lotta Rose – about a woman who “gives it all she’s got / Weighing in at 19 stone” – being recounted round a pub table, late in the night. Even the violence of early songs like TNT and Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap is cartoonish, the kind of talk offered by men who talk a good fight. It’s possible the key line in the entire AC/DC catalogue comes from Have a Drink on Me: “So join me for a drink, boys.” Have a drink, and we’ll tell the stories we no longer tell at home, because we’re older and wiser – and no one at home wants to hear them any longer.

It is, of course, magnificent. It’s too loud, the sound is imperfect, and Angus Young’s solo during Let There Be Rock seems to last – as it always does – several eternities. But it is also wonderful: rock’n’roll reduced to its purest essence, in doses of flavour so concentrated they seem to set the world alight. If it’s farewell, it’s a glorious one.

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