By Jeremy Essig
By Jason Robinson
By Hans Morgenstern
By Joseph Hess
By Peter Gilstrap
By Julia Burch
By Jeremy Essig
By Nathan Smith
As well they should -- because in the world of popular music, with the next trend eternally on the horizon, musicians are always worried about how long they can maintain their fame. So it's reassuring to know at least one band can pretty much stay the same for 25 years. The brand-new AC/DC album, Stiff Upper Lip, has way more similarities to any track from High Voltage, the band's 1976 debut album, than differences. Different vocalist, sure, and a little more creativity in the chord structures, but the essence is the same; a metal-head Rip Van Winkle waking up after a quarter-century nap would easily recognize their sound.
"We strive for consistency," says Young. "We spend a lot of time working on it. Rock music is simplicity itself, but (you have to) come up with something that's a little bit different from what you've done before. You don't want to be a clone of what you were before. But you also know you've got to come up with something that sounds like AC/DC. So, you know, there's a lot of searching that we do.
"We have a song on the new album called 'Can't Stop Rock 'n' Roll.' I don't think anybody is trying to stop it anymore, but when we first released the album, a lot of the media were asking us, 'Yeah, but do you think what you do stands up to what today's youth is looking for?' I think it will always be that way. We know what we do best, which is rock & roll. I think there's always that little bit of hard wall you've got to get through."
AC/DC makes good, and even great, albums but truly shines in the live setting. Maybe it's the sheer extra volume that makes for such a completely visceral experience, or maybe it's simply hearing the band's best material performed back-to-back-to-back for a couple of hours. Or perhaps it's got something to do with the energy and enjoyment the band brings to the stage show. But, also, each tour brings a new trick. "Hell's Bells", from the classic Back in Black, is announced with the solemn ringing of a giant bell. "For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)" features a giant cannon, perched high above the stage, Spinal Tap-like, firing fake cannonballs. (If you value your hearing, get out of the building when they start to play that song; this usually comes at the end of the night, anyway.)
Young is coy when asked what we can expect for this tour, the band's first in four years. "There's a lot of surprises," he says. "It's a big show. I know, because I'm paying the bills." Another big laugh. "We've got a few things. I don't want to give away too much, you know. It's definitely different from what we've done in the past. There's a couple of big things. If you look at the cover for our new album, Stiff Upper Lip, that'll give you a good idea." The cover is built around what appears to be a large bronze statue of Angus Young in action onstage.
Five years ago, when AC/DC played Riverport, Brian Johnson was unable to come back onstage for an encore. Johnson and Young, in particular, work hard onstage, and on this night the heat was a bit too much for him. "He was struggling for air," said Young. "The medic thought it would be best for him not to go back on. I think in conditions like that, you've got to think. None of us joined a rock & roll band to sort of die." He laughs again.
"Brian goes for it, though," Young concludes. "I'm in amazement all the time, just watching. You've got to have good lung power, especially because it's a very hard rhythm section sitting behind him." And that's the essence of AC/DC: an incredibly hard, solid rhythm section with a powerhouse vocalist and an equally intense lead guitarist, playing the most basic yet infectious rock & roll songs with unequaled passion and intensity.