Saturday, January 25, 2014

Impossibly large noise: AC/DC in '78

I wrote this about AC/DC's electrifying, stomping performance of "Sin City" on Midnight Special in 1978:
The power of Marshall stacks vaporizes critical derision. AC/DC were happy to hit the stages to thunderous, fist-aloft cheers even if—especially if?—those cheers induced exaggerated sighs from patronizing pop music critics. What mattered was the onstage translation of beat, groove, and dirty jokes. By the close of the 1978 tour, AC/DC, loud and in control, was an absurdly tight rock & roll unit.
On September 6, the band flew into Hollywood for an appearance on NBC’s Midnight Special, Burt Sugerman’s ninety-minute late-night concert show. Over a popular eight-year run, hirsute host Wolfman Jack introduced many diverse bands to America. AC/DC’s one-song performance on the show is a classic, and goes a long way toward describing why conventional critical sniping of the band has always been irrelevant. They set up on the middle of three soundstages, as Steven Tyler and Ted Nugent introduced them (both barely able to keep grins off of their faces, likely flashing on road revelry from the summer tour). The mini drama of “Sin City” captures everything fun, dangerous, and potent about AC/DC. From the opening, crushing three-chords heralded by Scott’s sleeveless sleaze, the song is loud and on-point. Angus’ cap flies off within seconds. His hair is shoulder-length, and the sweaty mop’s manic in head-banging glory from beginning to end, the guitarist prowling the stage with his favorite Gibson SG guitar in a freak-show: part Chuck Berry, part hyperactive tweener, with a bit of Lon Chaney, Jr. thrown in. He’s grimacing, and his skinny, wiry legs are sticking out of his lad shorts, a book bag bouncing up and down on his skinny butt. When he’s not prowling during the verses, he’s relatively still, bopping back and forth on his semi-planted feet in his soon-to-be-identifiable groove.
Bon? He’s sporting an ugly mullet and uglier denim, but his baseness and tight-jean arrogance is redeemed entirely by his gum-chewing, half-grin, all-amused countenance. This is pretty hilarious, innit? He’s likely drunk, he certainly can’t dance — he looks like the trashy bachelor uncle rocking out at your family picnic — and his stage moves are limited to snaking the mic cord suggestively and striking poses and pointing at the crowd. But those grinning eyes make it all fun, and even half-innocent. The crotch-level girls seem amused and maybe interested behind feathered hair and stoner cool. Malcom, the foreman, is head-down, hard at work. Rudd and Williams are stand-ins for the guys down in the furnace, their hands wrapped tightly and sturdily around their tools, game-faces on, making the whole thing hum and groove and stay in one quaking piece. 
During the breakdown, Angus is on his ass, then he’s twirling on the floor like a crazed Fourth Stooge, now he’s up and (kind of) dancing as Williams and Rudd quiet things down with a hypnotic, funky bass-and-hi-hat line. Angus drapes his uniform tie around Bon’s head, garlanding him, and, after Bon philosophizes a final time on the nature of sinning and gambling and takes a deep breath, the band comes crashing back in, the song leaping in energy and power. By the end, it feels like the inevitable runaway train barreling halfway down the hill. God, it must’ve been deafening. The crowd digs it, though they look stunned during the whole thing, and that’s part of what Bon seems to acknowledge: he’s part understanding, mostly gleeful at what the band has just detonated. He’s sung about Las Vegas and all of the promises and heartaches, booze and powder, luck and destiny, ill-fortune and thrills made manifest in that desert town. 
Impossibly large noise coming out of these five micro-people. Watch it with the sound down and your ears still ring.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Awesome. Thanks!

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