Back You are here: Home Reviews Live Review: AC/DC, The Hives @ QSAC Stadium, 12.11.2015

Live Review: AC/DC, The Hives @ QSAC Stadium, 12.11.2015

The air was electric, a buzz of energy as the house lights went down. A crowd of 45, 000 strong held their breath, and roared as one when the screens lit up. The intro movie played, and as astronauts stumbled upon a flaming comet that started to hurtle towards earth, fireworks and explosions burst from the stage, accompanied by the searing strum of a black Gibson SG. The metal chairs rattled and the entire grandstand shook as AC/DC hit their first notes and blistered in to their set. The greatest rock ‘n’ roll show in the world was in Brisbane, and I was bobbing my head, a giddy grin plastered on my face that didn’t leave until well after the lights went out. This was AC/DC, and I couldn’t be happier.

AC/DC are in the country as part of their ‘Rock Or Bust’ tour, their first visit in five years. Before the main act, the crowd was suitable worked up to fever pitch by Swedish rock band The Hives, a noticeable improvement in the opening act department. Last time around, Melbourne band Calling All Cars were mercilessly booed after every song by anyone who was bothered to listen (far too indie for an AC/DC crowd) while Wolfmother received more praise and appreciation without the fans going overboard. This time around, The Hives did a far better job at engaging the crowd and getting the party started with their upbeat garage rock vibes and energetic crowd show. Their professionalism is apparent, with lead singer Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist engaging the crowd and getting them amped. Opening acts are much like pre-game entertainment at a footy grand final: everyone has their tickets for the game, and an opening act can either set the platform for a great game, or get everyone in a sour mood. Thankfully The Hives delivered a roaring set, complete with their hits such as Tick Tick Boom and Hate To Say I Told You So.

Soon it was time for the main event. From the opening crunching guitar riff, the sound was a sonic sledgehammer to the chest. For the next two and a half hours the crowd was treated to a set of AC/DC’s finest work, and a concert that had all the thrills one would expect from a world-class band. One thing is certain when punters buy a ticket to AC/DC: they know what they are getting: a band that busts their gut for them, to give them a show that they won’t forget, and something they will tell their friends and work colleagues the next day.

They also know what songs they’re going to hear. Unlike some bands who have reached the top, then go on to say they’re sick of playing the songs that got them there, AC/DC has a set-list built up around their core of classic hits, songs like T.N.T, Back In Black, Highway To Hell, Let There Be Rock, Whole Lotta Rosie, High Voltage, just to name a few which are mainstays and will always be played, because that’s what the fans have come to see. Of their entire set, only five songs were written since 1990, with four coming off the last two albums. It is a testament to their song writing that they can keep finding new riffs among the same chords they’ve been playing since the early 1970s. The new songs blended seamlessly in with their established classics, the only difference being that the crowd didn’t know the words to sing along with.

But yet, something was missing. A lot had happened in the five-year interim since they had last played on the world stage. Drummer Phil Rudd lived out his own Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap fantasy, where he was arrested and convicted of possession of methamphetamines and cannabis as well as threatening to kill in New Zealand. They have also lost founding member and rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young, cruelly struck down by dementia earlier this year.

The loss of Phil Rudd, while a blow to the band, is hardly something that would hardly signal the end of the band. AC/DC at times have gone through drummers quicker than I have underwear, with current drummer Chris Slade having played with the band before on the 1990 release ‘The Razors Edge’ and the subsequent world tour. However it is the loss of Malcolm that has hit the band hardest, and something that could prove to be a fatal blow. To their credit, AC/DC have kept it in the Young clan, with current rhythm guitarist Stevie Young the nephew of Angus and Malcolm. Stevie is a fine guitarist, and has played on a world tour with the band before while Malcolm was recovering from alcoholism, but while he might have Malcolm’s signature Gretsch strapped to his chest, he is no Malcolm.

On the surface of it, AC/DC is a straight-ahead, four to the floor, no frills rock band. Under the hood, it is the rhythm section of drums, bass and guitar that give the platform for the antics of lead guitarist Angus Young and wails of vocalist Brian Johnson. In this rhythm, there is a syncopated punchiness to the guitar chords that Malcolm played that gave the songs their hook. In all of the classic songs, it is the space, the air between chords that gave them a unique feel. Think the pauses in Highway To Hell, the stab of chords in Back In Black and Whole Lotta Rosie. Even the chords underneath the descending lead lick in Thunderstruck have a syncopated feel played around the kit, which gives the song its undeniable groove.

This is the understated genius of Malcolm, where the chords he doesn’t play give the song power. Without the established relationship between Malcolm, Phil Rudd and current bassist Cliff Williams, the whole rhythm section is lacking a coherency heard on previous tours. The fact that Malcolm would have to learn every song AC/DC would play, songs he helped write, before every gig on their last tour speaks to how important he is to the band. If they couldn’t tap him on the shoulder then and say maybe it’s time, it’s a sign that he is hugely important to the band.

That much was clear at QSAC where the usually well-oiled machine of AC/DC started to grind their gears. The rhythm lacked that punch and drive of the previous tour, and didn't spark in to the next gear that AC/DC are known for. There was a hiccup in You Shook Me All Night Long, but they may have just been distracted by the women flashing their breasts at them. There were mistakes in the timing, where the band just seemed to be half a second off fully clicking in. It was a less than polished performance from a band that prides itself on being a shiny, roaring beast. 

It can’t be denied that the age is starting to show for these warriors. While the flurry of notes from the solos of the only original member left, Angus Young, showing signs of slowing, they didn’t lack their blistering punch and frantic bursts, and he did deliver a wonderfully masterful and epic ten-minute solo (complete with two hydraulic stages, flamethrowers and confetti canons), and did not show any signs of slowing down, dancing and thrashing with every song, sweat spraying from his body with every head bang. Brian Johnson’s vocals sound strained and thin, but while he may have lost his upper register and can’t quite hit the high notes of old, that didn’t stop him screeching like a possessed banshee in every song.

While I was sitting in the back row of one of the farthest stands, the only nosebleeds to be had were from the volume of the music. But while it was loud, the quality was lacking, especially on the vocals and I can’t help but think it is less the bands fault and more the venue. It’s clear that world class acts deserve a world class stadium, and superior bands like AC/DC shouldn’t be playing in inferior venues like QSAC. The arbitrary limit on gigs at Suncorp should be lifted to that punters could have the quality show they paid for. Taylor Swift wouldn’t be seen dead at QSAC, so why should AC/DC? Not only that, the logistics of transporting 45, 000 people to and from a suburban stadium were torturous.

But despite the sound problems and occasional mistake, for the most AC/DC pulled it together to deliver a commanding show that makes you remember why they’ve been one of the best rock bands in the world for so long. After all is said and done, for the entire set I was grinning like I was a boy again, listening to AC/DC for the first time. And that’s worth the ticket price alone.

If you missed out on Thursday, AC/DC have another gig at QSAC Saturday night.

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