Shitty sound in Vancouver puts a damper on AC/DC’s noise pollution

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, FEB. 15, 1996

By Steve Newton

I’ve been going to AC/DC concerts for almost 20 years now—which either gives me bragging rights or is a severe embarrassment, depending on your musical tastes. Actually, at the very first AC/DC gig I went to, I missed the group’s performance—it was opening for Aerosmith and I arrived late—but I still remember the wiped-out look in the eyes of one of my teenage buddies who’d gotten there in time to see the Bon Scott–led quintet blast through tunes from its new Powerage LP.

“They’re better than Aerosmith!” he clamoured, excited and spent after a sweat-soaked visit to the packed Pacific Coliseum floor. I scoffed at that insane idea and headed off to find my seat, mind aglow at the prospect of hearing personal-fave tunes like “Mama Kin” and “Same Old Song and Dance”.

Aerosmith sucked. The “Toxic Twins” were intoxicated and couldn’t play worth beans. Considering Bon Scott’s fatal predilection for booze, maybe he’d been wasted too, but AC/DC’s primitive song structures make its tunes a lot easier to pull off after a dozen or two beers. At any rate, to this day I still kick myself for not getting to the old rink a half hour earlier and experiencing the godfathers of blues-metal in their prime. And—as I found out at GM Place on Friday (February 9)—going to an AC/DC concert in ’96 doesn’t help make up for that formidable faux pas in the least.

Not that main man Angus Young and iron-lunged Bon Scott replacement Brian Johnson don’t work hard to give their devoted fans the best in arena-rock showmanship. There was a huge “wrecking ball” that dangled over the stage and “destroyed” a cement-wall facade at the start of the show and that Johnson straddled and rode like a true hooligan later on. There was the even bigger bell that Johnson swung from during the foreboding intro to “Hell’s Bells”. For his part, Young was his typical bundle of manic energy, slowing down just long enough to pull off a comical striptease that displayed first his Canadian flag–covered undies and then the crack of his pasty-white butt.

In light of AC/DC’s juvenile onstage antics, it helps if you can devolve to a caveman mentality somewhat and just give yourself up to the mind-numbing blast of the raunchy, hook-filled tunes. The problem these days is that AC/DC can’t come up with raunchy, hook-filled tunes any more. Whenever the band culled tracks from its current Ballbreaker CD, the show got real dull; tunes like “Cover You in Oil” and “Boogieman” are just plain boring, and no amount of instrumental dexterity on Young’s part could help.

Almost as disparaging as the lack of decent new material was the awful sound at GM Place. I don’t know if it was the fault of AC/DC’s technical crew or if the venue’s much-ballyhooed “state-of-the-art” sound system is a piece of crap, but I was thoroughly disgusted with the muddled racket. The last time AC/DC played here, a few years back at the Coliseum, the sound was just as loud but incredibly crisp and clear. This time around, Johnson’s boisterous claim that “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution” was easily argued.

Still, even though they sounded as if they were blaring from a cheapjack boom box with no bass control, raunchy gems like “You Shook Me All Night Long” and “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” got my jaded old noggin bobbing along to their gritty strains. And the impressive encore delivered the inevitable classic, “Highway to Hell”, during which Young donned devilish horns and proved himself a naughty little schoolboy by sticking his guitar neck out from between Johnson’s spread legs.

The show ended with a bang—a few, actually—as several cannons were rolled out to accommodate the band’s trusty concert standby, “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)”. Strangely enough, the deafening blasts of those cannons featured better tone and resonance than anything else I heard all night.

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