Rocks In The Attic #448: AC/DC – ‘Stiff Upper Lip’ (2000)

RITA#448.jpgI saw the mighty ‘DC the other night in Auckland, my third time seeing the band. As you would expect, it was exactly the same as every other time I’ve seen them – but to be fair there was enough different this time round for it still to be interesting.

The biggest difference was the line-up – due to ill health sadly forcing his retirement, rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young has now been replaced by his nephew Stevie Young; and original drummer Phil Rudd, arrested recently for hiring a hitman to take out two men, was also out of the picture, replaced by the man he replaced back in the ‘90s, Chris Slade. The best joke I heard about Rudd’s arrest was that he was mistakenly overheard just saying that the band needed a couple of hits.

That was the thing I was most looking forward to with this concert – the return of Chris Slade, the drummer who drove the band through the Live At Donington concert film. As New Zealand music journalist Simon Sweetman has correctly pointed out, Phil Rudd could never play Thunderstruck correctly, there was always something missing. Slade played on the studio version of the song from the Razors Edge album, and his approach to the song takes it to another level, not least for those great side-bass drums he has positioned on either side of him.

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Seeing the band on stage without founding member Malcolm Young was heartbreaking. Malcolm has always been a rock on stage, standing in the shadows but always there holding the rhythm. The only positive outcome was that his position went to a family member (who looks so alike Malcolm that the casual onlooker probably wouldn’t even notice), and to complete the illusion Stevie even used Malcolm’s guitar – a Gretsch G6131 Jet Firebird with the neck and middle pickups removed.

The show wasn’t without its hitches – Brian Johnson missed his intro to Sin City (“Diamonds…”) and caught up with the second half of the line. The ego-ramp was really underused, with Angus and Brian only venturing out it in the final bunch of songs. There were a few sound issues early on, with Stevie’s guitar deadly quiet until they fixed it.  Angus’ guitar tone sounded a bit digitally enhanced – not something you want to hear from a guitarist so heavily associated with keeping it old-school. And the band didn’t play The Jack – the first song I learnt to play on the guitar – and as a result there was no slow blues played during the set.

But for all the cons, there was more than enough pros (a lot of the women in the audience looked like pros actually – lots of 40 year old faded blondes, with missing teeth, dressed as 20 year olds). They played two older songs, High Voltage and Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be (both from the Live At Donington set-list) which I was very happy to see. I’d never seen the band play Have A Drink On Me (from 1980’s Back In Black) lie before, and that was such a surprise and so unexpected, I initially thought Angus was playing the intro as some kind of blues throwaway snippet into another song. For the same reason, it was also great to see them play Shot Down In Flames – another deep cut off n album overshadowed by hit singles (in this case, 1979’s Highway To Hell).

Angus’ playing was still very fluid for a 60-year old, and there was no evidence of ‘locked-up fingers’ syndrome (that blighted Jimmy Page at Zeppelin’s O2 reunion show). And perhaps as a nod to his advancing age though, Angus didn’t do his momentum-stopping mid-set strip-tease, thankfully keeping his shirt on for the second half of the show. Rock N’ Roll Ain’t Eye Pollution and all that.

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The crowd was very interesting in fact. All ages were represented, the youngest child I saw couldn’t have been any older than six or seven, and while it wasn’t a completely 50/50 gender split, I’d estimate about 40% of the audience were chicks. There were some proper low-lifes there though. I expect if Auckland Police looked into it, there would have been a distinct drop in the number of burglaries reported on the night – all the no-mark bogans were wearing their best black t-shirts at the AC/DC show.

The set-list didn’t feature any songs from 1995’s Ballbreaker or 2000’s Stiff Upper Lip, the record I’m supposed to be talking about here. Both albums are solid efforts and I’m surprised they didn’t play just one track from each. I guess they have to be vigilant with this though. Not every studio album can be represented – there are seventeen of them!

While I enjoyed Ballbreaker, leading me to see the band for the first time on that tour (supported by the Wildhearts no less), I prefer Stiff Upper Lip of the two. It’s a bluesier, low-key affair – but it didn’t do very well in terms of sales, selling half what Ballbreaker and its follow-up Black Ice did. I even skipped that tour, busy playing with my own band at the time.

I’m sure there’ll be another album though, in four or five years. And another tour hopefully. Here’s to the 2020 world tour!

Hit: Stiff Upper Lip

Hidden Gem: Hold Me Back

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