The last two years have not been kind to Australian hard rock heavyweight AC/DC. During that time span, the band has lost three long-running members, including founding member and rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young and longtime drummer Phil Rudd.
The second North American leg of their world tour came to an abrupt halt when doctors ordered lead singer Brian Johnson off the road to prevent the risk of complete loss of hearing. The band promised to make up the cancelled U.S. dates and finish the European leg of the tour with a guest singer, an announcement that left fans pondering who would fill in the shoes of their favorite.
Less than a month before the aforementioned European leg, the band finally announced that it would continue the Rock or Bust World Tour with, of all people, Guns N’ Roses frontman W. Axl Rose. Unsurprisingly, this announcement was met with overwhelmingly negative reactions from both fans and fellow musicians, including The Who’s Roger Daltrey and Oasis’ Noel Gallagher. But as the band began performing with Rose, the tide started gradually turning back in their favor. Rose is back in the United States with AC/DC to pick up where its last tour with Johnson left off, complete with a stop in New York’s legendary Madison Square Garden.
The show opened with a quick performance by the up-and-coming blues rock band Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown. While the band’s type of music is not too far removed from what defined rock ’n’ roll back in the 1970s, the band’s chemistry and overall performance did a great job getting the full arena pumped up for the headliners. After the expected pyrotechnic introduction, the band sauntered onto the stage with Rose in tow.
For the first five songs, it seemed like the exact same set list as its North American stadium tour last summer, but there was something different about the tour this time around. All of the older songs were played in their original keys. Beginning with the band’s 2008-2010 world tour for Black Ice, all of the songs have been transcribed either half or a full step down to compensate for Johnson’s diminishing vocal range. With Rose entering the fold, the band could finally play the classics the way fans remembered them. Interestingly, the Rock or Bust songs were also touched up as a result, which added an element of surprise to the tour.
Beginning with the sixth song onward, things started to change up. Despite being marketed as a tour to promote the band’s latest record, only two songs from the album appeared on the set list: the title track and a new addition, “Got Some Rock & Roll Thunder.” It is no secret that Rose is a massive AC/DC fan, with a particular preference for the years in which Bon Scott was the frontman. When Rose approached the job as lead singer, he knew that he not only had to perform in stadiums and arenas full of people long accustomed to seeing Johnson singing on stage, but also that he had to honor a legacy left behind by both singers.
Rose brought his end game into singing the classics. For many points throughout the two-and-a-half-hour show, it was very easy to forget that Rose is already part of Guns N’ Roses and just a temporary substitute for AC/DC. He digs himself into the singer’s role so deeply, he convincingly feels like a natural part of the band. With Johnson’s aging vocals, the band came off as slightly restrained when it came to playing the modified tunes. With that matter of contention out of the window, AC/DC is now playing with the type of ferocity and explosive energy that defined the band’s golden age.
Stepped down songs or not, the band members still bring their best to the shows. Lead guitarist Angus Young is still providing the eclectic and flashy guitar playing and stage presence that set him apart from his peers. The sizeable rhythm section, made up of rhythm guitarist Stevie Young, soon-to-be-retired bassist Cliff Williams and drummer Chris Slade, all add support to Rose and Angus’ thundering leads. The rest of the concert included all the familiar features that define AC/DC as a perennial live rock act. Aside from the explosive rendition of the songs, the band occasionally augmented some of the songs with outrageous and over-the-top props that seem to be taken right out of a Spinal Tap concert, including an inflatable obese stripper and real Civil War-era cannons that were used to close the show.
Now that Rose is returning to his regular band for tours in South America, Asia and AC/DC’s native Australia, his tenure in the band is disproving skeptics around the world. Here is to hoping for another tour and a new record with Rose.