The Unexpected Triumph of Axl/DC

Live music can really make you feel good.  It’s energizing.  It’s exciting.  It’s a great reminder of why music moves us.  Watching actual musicians and singers practice their craft for an audience is incredibly inspiring. 


But there are not a lot of concerts I am interested in paying to attend.  When I go to a show it’s usually to watch an artist who has been around for a while.  I’ve seen Paul McCartney 3 times, The Who twice, The Monkees probably 5 times. Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Tom Petty, The Sex Pistols, Aerosmith, Cher.  I’ve seen Lemmy.  I’ve seen David Johansen.  Peter Noone is always a riot.  Paul Revere & The Raiders.  The Association.  The Grass Roots.  Weird Al.  The Fifth Dimension.  The Vines.  The Hives.   I saw The Black Keys on their Turn Blue tour and they were phenomenal.  Foo Fighters (5 times), Oasis (2 times), and Weezer (2 times) are the most recent bands I have paid to see on multiple occasions, and they’re old enough to have been on MTV back when they played videos! 


I have checked off most of the artists on my bucket list, but there are still some big ones that need to happen: The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin (any incarnation), Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Van Halen.  I just checked off another important one:  AC/DC.  Even though I have been snidely referring to them as Axl/DC, it was one of the greatest concerts I have ever seen.  I am aware of how bullshit that sounds, and I’m as surprised as anyone that it was so good.  But I swear, I have rarely had this much fun at a concert.


When the tickets first went on sale for the Rock or Bust tour I wasn’t sure I could spend the money, so I held off.  Then an acquaintance was selling his seats, so I made an offer.  Somebody else offered him face value, so that was that.  Maybe a month later, he told me that deal fell through—I snapped up those tickets immediately!


Weeks later, Brian announced he was leaving the band because of his hearing loss.  Blerg!  They had already recently lost Malcolm and Phil, and now Brian was down for the count.  How could they go on?  They said they’d reschedule in the fall, but no new lead singer was announced. 


When the Axl rumors started, I hoped it was just a cruel joke.  I have never liked Axl.  Not his face, not his voice, not his stupid little snake dance.  Never in the past 30 years have I reconsidered my disdain for him.  And then came the news.  I would be seeing him live, listening to him defile the magnificent music of one of my favorite bands.  How could Angus do this?  Why Axl?  Comedian Jim Breuer does a spot on impression of Brian—surely that was the better solution!

But no.  I had the whole summer to think about it.  I had to see Axl.  But I was also going to see Angus!  I could just watch him and pretend Axl wasn’t there.  Perhaps there would be some sort of technology developed over those few warm months that would turn Axl’s voice into Brian’s or Bon’s—or it could simply eliminate Axl’s.  Then there was news that Brian was working with a doctor on some revolutionary hearing aid technology that might allow him to perform again.  My fingers were crossed from the moment I heard that until the second Axl took the stage that September night.


I was dreading that moment.  I’ve been to lots of oldies shows, and they can be hit or miss. K.C. & the Sunshine Band was one of the greatest acts I have seen at an oldies show.  Tons of energy and stamina and great music.  Creedence Clearwater Revisited was definitely a miss.  Yes, they played real CCR songs, but without John Fogerty, why bother?  Plenty of other bands on the oldies circuit are shells of what they once were, and I get that they still have fun playing even if there are only one or two original members left, but it’s not always fun for the audience.  I prayed that this would not be the case with Axl/DC.

It was kind of difficult to feel excited about the concert, but still I couldn’t sleep the night before.    Seeing all the fans crowded into the arena for the show, the range of ages, the merch tables—that’s when I started really getting excited.  The opening band, Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown, was really good, and I was excited for them to have the honor of opening for legends.  While the stage crew set up AC/DC’s equipment we went to pee—I never get up during concerts because it’s rude, and since I heard this was a two and a half hour show I wanted to be ready to rock and roll without pissing myself.


And then the lights went out, and all you could see was a sea of flickering red plastic horns across the arena.  A video of space and astronauts began, one I had seen many times while watching recent concerts on YouTube, and I was ready, Axl or not! 


Let me just tell you, these guys know how the hell to put on a rock and roll show.  It was weird to hear Axl’s voice on these songs; when they did their first shows with him earlier in the year I saw a video and could only tolerate it for about 5 seconds.  But in person, it really was not as annoying as I thought it would be.  Number one, the music was incredibly loud.  Number two, the rest of the audience and I were singing very loudly with each song, so it was like karaoke with thousands of people in a basketball arena.  And number three, at no point did he try to turn it into Axl Rose & the New AC/DC Band.  He looked like he was having great fun, and he really did check his ego and allow Angus to have all the attention he deserves.  I was finally able to look at Axl as a fellow fan, and I was excited for him to have the opportunity to play with these guys. 

And let’s talk about the star of the show, one Angus Young.  How he still jumps and duck walks all over the stage at age 61 I’ll never understand.  I kept thinking about his knees—dude, I’m 43 and my knees would be shredded after about 5 minutes of that shit!  And he is still a skinny little fucker, still rockin’ those school boy uniforms—I wish he had done the striptease he is so famous for!


And he can wail on that guitar like a motherfucker!  He even played his guitar with his tie at one point.  Who does that?  When I listen to early AC/DC albums I really hear the rhythm and blues that built their foundation, and Angus continues to bring that to every song.  It’s quite extraordinary.  Never in my life have I played air guitar unless I was making fun of somebody playing air guitar, but I’ll be goddammed if I wasn’t doing my best Angus on air Gibson for at least three songs!


Speaking of things I never do at concerts, I rarely do more than stand and sort of sway back and forth to the beat while singing.  But this time, not only was there air guitar involved but full-on Mariah Carey-style hand choreography while screaming the lyrics at the top of my lungs.  I was having the best time ever, and I didn’t give two shits that I looked like a dork.  Rock and roll makes me feel happy, and I had a big old smile on my face the whole night.

Rock and roll will never die, even though its finest accomplices are growing old.  I felt really young that night, even though the music I heard was not.  Rock and roll is about youth, rebellion, energy, attitude, and above all, a really fucking great time.  This concert reminded me of why I was so attracted to rock and roll when I first heard it on my little faux denim sewing box record player when I was 5 years old.  I was far more excited listening to 2/5 of the actual AC/DC than I expected to be once Brian left, and that’s because Angus works very hard at his job, which is to rock our balls off every time.

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