The first thing I saw when I arrived at the Xcel Energy Center on Valentine’s Day were the protesters huddled outside — carrying signs and toting Bibles and pamphlets that denounced the AC/DC show about to take place inside the arena. I realized at that moment that I could not remember the last time I had ever attended a concert that incited such outrage.
Despite the clamor outside, however, there was no controversy inside the venue. The Australian rockers’ rabid fans braved the snow to get there, wearing little flashing red devil horns with a complete lack of pretension. Shirts emblazoned with the AC/DC lightning bolt logo outnumbered even Harley-Davidson tees. There was no question that these were authentic, devoted fans.
The crowd was nearly entirely white, and mostly middle-aged, with some parents bringing their young children along. A family took up the entire row in front me — a Valentine’s Day gift, courtesy of Dad. The guy behind me proudly exclaimed that AC/DC were on his bucket list of acts to see.
As the set began with the opening chords to the title track from the band’s most recent album Rock or Bust, I watched as a single tear rolled down the cheek of the grown man next to me. Later, I saw someone raise a sign across the stadium claiming that they had driven down the Highway to Hell to see the band, and at one point a woman tried to storm the barricade, desperately extending a rose to vocalist Brian Johnson.
The band was at their best when they played their classic cuts, and softened when they played anything less familiar. Fundamentally, the band stuck to the formula that created their success. Songs from Back in Black — the 1980 classic that’s been outsold only by Michael Jackson’s Thriller — were among the night’s standouts, including the title track, “You Shook Me All Night Long,” and “Hells Bells.”
Others, like “Thunderstruck” from the 1990 album The Razors Edge, or “Whole Lotta Rosie” from pre-Johnson-era 1977 album Let There Be Rock, reminded the audience how AC/DC have helped to define the meaning of “stadium rock.”
The band don’t skimp on theatricality, at times bordering on the gimmicky — for instance, a video clip of two astronauts discovering the AC/DC logo erupt in a burst of lava on the surface of the moon was accompanied by actual flamethrowers. This band doesn’t need literal pyrotechnics: they were at their finest when they stuck to the frenetic energy inherent in their performance (particularly, lead guitarist Angus Young’s livewire finger-taps and high-speed solos).
Playing in front of 33 Marshall amps stacked three-high, Johnson proved to be a dutiful and enthusiastic frontman. Dressed in an emerald-green variety of his famous schoolboy outfit, Young easily stole the show as he duckwalked and sprinted across the stage, ending each song with a gleeful jump, at one point playing an extended guitar solo as confetti exploded around him, at another playing with his necktie strapped around his guitar to distort every sound he could muster. The two managed to live up to their hype throughout the show, and seemed impervious to age. (Johnson is now 68, and Young is 60.)
Whether you like it or not, music like this is simply not being made any more. There are reasons for that, but AC/DC have a rich legacy that they continue to live up to. When was the last time an extended guitar solo came off with swagger instead of feeling overbearing? With the speed, energy, and acuity of — forgive me for the cliché — lightning, Young’s prowess remains a spectacle of its own.
The band performed two givens during the encore: “Highway to Hell,” of course, followed by “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You).” I looked over to the guy next to me, and another tear rolled down his cheek.
Peter Diamond is a senior at the University of Minnesota — Twin Cities and a sound and vision editor of The Wake Student Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @repetediamond. Photographer Bridget Bennett is also a student at the University of Minnesota — Twin Cities.