Last night’s AC/DC show at MSG began with the unveiling of a giant screen featuring a computer-animated train (number 666, of course!) that was chugging, presumably, toward the Garden. In the engine room, a schoolboy-outfitted devil was seduced by two ample-bosomed babes; they tied him up and threw the throttle full-speed ahead (why did they have to lick it, though? That was unnecessary), crashing head-on into the station as the lights went on and the band opened with, yes, “Rock and Roll Train” from their newest album, Black Ice. And the show only got better!
Counterintuitively enough, aging befits an outfit like AC/DC, who have always presented themselves as dark wizards of rock: These days, Angus Young actually looks like a dark wizard, balding on top but with shoulder-length hair and sagging skin. He took the stage in his classic outfit, which he stripped out of almost immediately to reveal a flat stomach that seemed unusual for a professionally dissipated 53-year-old man. It became clear almost immediately why his fitness is not an issue — he has not turned down the energy at all; every single trademark move that you either remember from seeing the band in its heyday or via concert footage on a pre-talking-head VH1 was present last night, and not in a rote, greatest-hits kind of way.
Young’s musical gimmick is switching abruptly and without warning from traditional, clean (if massively amplified — there were at least eighteen Marshall amps to supplement the Garden’s already-cranked PA system) blues soloing to furious Hendrix/Page shredding. The spontaneity of his charismatic moves matched the spontaneity of his playing. He finished the band’s set (pre-encore) by spending five minutes standing alone on top of a platform built over the drum set, hammering away with such speed and volume that his playing was essentially incomprehensible to mortal ears. This was utterly captivating.
AC/DC’s greatest achievement may be that it still draws a crowd that really is there to rock, and not just catch the hype coming through town or remember the old days. And indeed, the audience matched the band’s enthusiasm during “T.N.T.” and “Hell’s Bells” (which opened with singer Brian Johnson swinging from what appeared to be an actual huge cast-iron bell suspended above the stage), creating a self-accelerating vortex of rock fury. When we saw the Rolling Stones a couple of years ago at the Garden, a 10-year-old fell asleep in the row behind us. A few bold (or irresponsible) parents had brought their offspring to the show last night, too, and needless to say, none of them fell asleep — we can fucking promise you that.