A locomotive crashes at the start of AC/DC’s arena show, creating a backdrop that’s meant as the visual for the opening tune, “Rock n Roll Train,” but telegraphs the speedy story for the entire night. This well-scripted, well-paced entertainment is about movement, with the freight train elements of AC/DC’s music — steady and loud, the pace never too fast — on display.
An AC/DC show will not convince attendees that the band members have new ambitions in their songwriting, have redesigned theatrical elements or developed new proficiency on their instruments. For AC/DC, it’s about proving that they can still get the job done executing a familiar show that firmly separates performer and audience, structured as cleanly as a populist Broadway musical. Saturday’s concert was the 20th date of the tour, and there’s little doubt that auds in the five remaining cities will see exactly the same show.
This is 100 minutes of music that served as a teenage soundtrack in the late ’70s and 1980s, music of escape that — judging by the age of the crowd — appears to continue to function in the same manner as it did two or three decades ago.
AC/DC’s leaders, Angus Young and Brian Johnson, cling to a sound designed to follow that final bell of the week, the one rung at the factory or school that signals the start of the weekend. Hedonism, provided it puts you on the path to hell, remains their raison d’etre. Redemption is for other bands to worry about.
The lack of sonic evolution — on the surface — eases the introduction into the set of five songs from AC/DC’s new album, “Black Ice,” the band’s 15th overall and first in eight years. A phenomenal sales success globally, it’s evidence of the Australian rockers’ unique staying power; “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” and “Highway to Hell” have proven to be blueprints for an entire oeuvre: Overinflate the vocal yelps and bone-crushing guitar sounds, yet keep the result minimalist and generally free of flourishes.
Two of the new songs that made it into Saturday’s set suggest that the songwriting brothers Angus and Malcolm Young had been listening to music other than early AC/DC albums before they headed into the studio. On “Big Jack,” Angus Young positions the timbre toward a “Sticky Fingers”-era Keith Richards sound while maintaining his trademark crunch. “Anything Goes,” quite possibly the most pop-oriented in their songbook, reaches even further back to reveal the influence of Chuck Berry in its structure and, as played at the Forum, the attack of John Fogerty in his CCR days.
That stuff does not really matter to this crowd. The night was about the impressive and enormous blow-up doll Rosie that straddled the train and gyrated, the cannons that fired during “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You),” Young’s striptease through an overlong “The Jack” and the historical vidclips that accompanied “Let There Be Rock.”
Band again performs tonight at the Forum.