Live: AC/DC at the Forum
If one way to view Australian hard rock mainstay AC/DC is as the world's most triumphant bar band, then on Saturday, one way to view the Forum was as the world's biggest bar. Most of the hard rock fans in the sold-out crowd seemed bent on annihilation, not from alcohol but from the ministrations of the group, whose ambition was to lead them into happy surrender to their baser instincts.
Before the show, men moved through the venue's parking lot in packs. Many dumped bagged tallboys at the door, exchanging them for plastic cups full of pale American beer. Women pushed up their cleavage in the bathroom: "I look so old," said one fortysomething rock chick to another. "It's the crummy light," her friend replied.
In the stands, friends jostled one another until it seemed like they might fight. But once AC/DC took the stage, a strangely sanguine mood descended, as if each person in the crowd had blissfully surrendered to the band's big riffs and old tricks.
To say AC/DC's tricks are no longer fresh isn't an insult. Extreme familiarity is a big part of the band's success. The hits that filled the 1-hour, 45-minute set Saturday, including "Highway to Hell," "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" and "T.N.T," all feature thumping 4/4 beats, football chant choruses and blues-based, metal-fed riffs. So did the newer songs from its stupendously successful 15th studio album, "Black Ice," which had the second-highest one-week sales of any album in 2008.
That simple four-beat rhythm, maintained by the unflinching back line of guitarist Malcolm Young, bassist Cliff Williams and drummer Phil Rudd, formed a field of artificial turf over which lead guitarist Angus Young could run rampant. The 53-year-old Angus (Malcolm's brother) played solo after lengthy solo Saturday, sweating hard in his patented schoolboy outfit as he stomped and duckwalked around the stage.
His playing sometimes recalled Elmore James and at other times raised the ghost of Muddy Waters; occasionally his rapid arpeggios invoked Pete Townshend of the Who. Young bases everything he does in the blues, though he approaches the form in his own way. He's not a storyteller, like music's suave, stalwart black pioneers, nor particularly cerebral, like current blues-rock favorites Ben Harper and John Mayer.
To use a fancy word, Young is a minimalist. He may have played a dazzling array of notes in his solos Saturday, but each move of his fingers on the fretboard related tightly to the next. In his style, Young mixes the blues with rough-edged garage rock, breaking down the combination into a few sharp and aggressive phrases that he then repeats until they're bloody from overuse. The effect is primal -- virtually everyone at the Forum pumped his or her fists on cue, unleashing an aggression that had a definite sexual edge. Hardly anyone left before the encore, either.
AC/DC's sexiness, if you can call it that, isn't seductive; it's exclusively male in nature and obsessively bent on release. On the one hand, it's communicated through Young's perverse juvenile delinquent act; on the other, it's embodied by vocalist Brian Johnson, the man who plays potato to Angus Young's meat.
Chortling as he snarled out double-entendres about loving a fat woman, contracting a disease from another lover and commandeering a third as if she were a runaway train -- an image reinforced by the massive fire-spewing locomotive that dominated the stage set, mounted near the show's end by a top-heavy inflatable doll -- Johnson was a blustery raconteur with sweaty biceps and a dock worker's cap. Strutting on a catwalk that extended half the length of the arena, Johnson shook his denim-clad derrière and sang about excess and oblivion, never abandoning his blokish good humor.
Most hard rock singers have an androgynous edge; the 61-year-old Johnson is 100% dirty uncle, a man's man and a woman's lovable nightmare. His famous yowl (this is one aging vocalist who'll never be accused of shrieking too much) was a little wobbly in his midrange. but he recovered from the bad notes by projecting extra bravado.
It was all very silly, and of course the band was in on the joke. No one can churn out cartoon blues in front of fake cannons for 30 years and not develop a sense of humor. But everyone at the Forum this evening was clearly in agreement that crass jokes, thrusting lust and really loud guitar can play an important part in freeing the human soul. As the custom license plate of the BMW I followed out of the parking lot after the show read, LET1RIP.
-- Ann Powers
Photos: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times