With his cap pulled low over his eyes, red knickers and unruly hair that never met a stylist, 60-year-old Angus Young still looks like a schoolboy tiny enough to fit into a thimble. His guitar makes a big noise, though, and AC/DC’s youthful appetite can still be measured in decibels.
On Tuesday at sold-out Wrigley Field, Young and his bandmates -- a hodgepodge of veterans and relative newcomers – hammered out two hours’ worth of songs that celebrate sex, sin and booze. For this band, time pretty much stopped around 1980, and there’s never been a reason to reinvent the sound or update the look. Before the show, there was reason for concern.
Guitar aficionados will vouch for Angus’ older brother, Malcolm Young, as the less-showy guitarist who is the band’s most essential musician with his unerring feel for rhythm and riff. Malcolm is no longer able to tour, however, because of dementia. Chain-smoking drummer Phil Rudd isn’t on the road either because of legal problems.
But the band hasn’t slowed and the parts – with the exception of the one-of-a-kind Angus -- seem interchangeable. No matter who’s in AC/DC, they project a men-in-black everyman attitude – one minute you’re the bass player in one of the biggest selling bands in the world, the next you could just as easily be sitting at the end of the bar across the street with a bunch of fans who have no idea you were on stage for the last two hours.
The replacements for Malcolm Young and Rudd were no exception: Steve Young – Malcolm’s nephew – on rhythm guitar and Chris Slade on drums. With longtime bassist Cliff Williams they suggested a trio of workers shoveling coal in a locomotive’s boiler room. It’s a rhythm section that chugs, and it’s relentless, unstoppable. As needed, Steve Young and Williams would step forward to bellow harmonies on opposite sides of singer Brian Johnson, then retreat to the boiler room to sweat some more in the shadows.
Johnson’s voice screeched as his left hand shimmied, and Angus Young’s spindly legs twitched. Young emulated Chuck Berry’s duck walk or creeped like a kid getting ready to throw a brick through a classroom window, and punched out solos that owed plenty to his heroes – most of them Chicago blues guitarists. His inability to sit still reached its apex on “Let There Be a Rock,” with the rhythm section at its most merciless as Young soloed on a riser amid a confetti shower.
The band sprinkled in three songs from its latest album, “Rock or Bust,” which didn’t sound much different from the 17 tracks culled from the previous 16 studio albums. The formula: A handful of chords wrapped around a shouted chorus and lyrics that do not require a thesaurus to figure out.
There was the rock ‘n’ roll origin story “Let There Be Rock,” the timeless riff architecture of “Shot Down in Flames” and “Highway to Hell,” the hip-swinging strut of “You Shook Me All Night Long.” “Hells Bells” tolled and “Thunderstruck” uncoiled. “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)” came with its own Guns-of-Navarone stage props. There was a blow-up groupie in “Whole Lotta Rosie” and a whole lotta pyro and amplifiers as a stage backdrop. Angus Young tried to strangle his guitar with his schoolboy neck tie on “Sin City.”
He did everything but play till dawn. It was a school night, after all, and AC/DC dutifully wrapped up at 10 p.m., an hour before curfew. Even 60-year-old schoolboys need their rest.
Setlists courtesy of Setlist.fm