Ac/dc Basic Hard Rock Sound Still Packs Arenas

November 16, 1990|By J.D.CONSIDINE | J.D.CONSIDINE,Sun Pop Music Critic

AC/DC When: Sunday, 8 p.m.

Where: The Capital Centre.

Tickets: $18.50 and $19.50.

Call: 792-7490 for information, 481-6000 for tickets.

Some things never change, and AC/DC seems to be one of them.

Sure, there have been some personnel changes over the last 16 years, the most notable being singer Brian Johnson, who was added after original vocalist Bon Scott drank himself to death in 1980. It's also true that the band has moved up in the world since it first began to raise a ruckus in the seedy pubs of Sydney's King's Cross district. These days, AC/DC is strictly an arena act, playing to packed houses across the globe.

Still, the important stuff -- the band's sound and sensibility -- hasn't changed a whit. AC/DC's songs have always been blunt-edged and bone simple, specializing in hypersonic vocals and ear-crushing guitar.

It's not the fanciest way to rock and roll, but it's efficient. That's one reason why the band has never put much stock in instrumental virtuosity. "Even in the old days, we always put atmosphere before technique," explains guitarist Angus Young, speaking over the phone from his record company's New York offices. "You can play a great song note perfect, but it might not have that spark."

AC/DC, though, spits sparks like a downed power line. That's one reason its music has been so enduring, and that's as true of oldies like "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" and "Highway to Hell" as it is of the Top-10 album, "The Razors Edge."

"Kinda reassures your faith in rock and roll music," laughs Young.

Then again, AC/DC has always been a traditionalist's hard rock band. For one thing, the band hasn't changed its image a bit, and looks today pretty much as it did a decade ago. Young, for instance, still hits the stage wearing a schoolboy's jacket and short pants. "The shorts and that whole persona, that's always been me from the start," he says.

"I mean, some nights it does get a bit cold. If you're up there playing out there in Finland and you're in the middle of winter, it can get a little chilly. But I think I would feel strange playing without them."

Clothes aside, though, Young reckons that what AC/DC's ongoing success really means is simply that rock and roll is alive and well. "It shows that the public is still out there," he says, "and that's what they want to hear: rock music. They're keeping it alive.

"I mean, I used to get annoyed years ago when you'd hear people like David Bowie go, 'Ahh, rock music's dead.' I'd think, 'Well, it might be dead for you.' But I could never remember him playing a rock and roll song."

AC/DC, however, has never played anything but. Young

attributes part of the band's devotion to basic rock and roll to its early days in Sydney. "I mean, a lot of those areas we played were rough areas," he explains. "If you played 'em a slow song, it pretty much meant there might be some trouble in the audience, y'know? So we used to try and keep it fast and furious."

That ferocity quickly earned the band a loud and loyal following. "We always knew that we had a distinctive sound," says Young. "There was just something about it. It was very hard-edged."

So hard-edged, in fact, that AC/DC was initially mistaken for punk rock in some quarters. "Or if it wasn't a punk band, it was a new wave band. And if it wasn't a new wave band, it was a heavy metal band. I think they always had a tag," laughs Young. "We've always said that, if anything, we're a hard rock and roll band."

AC/DC is also a hard-working band, and owes much of its reputation to its near-incessant touring in the late '70s. Although its devotion to roadwork is now seen as proof that a band could literally play its way onto the charts, Young says the real reason AC/DC kept crisscrossing the country was that there was simply no other way to get heard back then.

"Really, when we first came here, in '77, the rock music on radio was pretty nonexistent," he says. "I think there were maybe five or six stations in the entire country that were committed to playing rock and roll, and the rest of the stations were pretty much into this disco-type thing, y'know?

"So we virtually had to play everyplace. And we proved our reputation as a live rock and roll band."

Naturally, some of that reputation stems from showmanship, but even there, AC/DC has stuck with the tried-and-true. That's not to say the band is stuck in a rut, exactly; as Young puts it, "We always try to look for something a bit different." But some things have taken on the status of ritual, as when the guitarist drops his shorts midway through the show to moon his audience (something that used to shock parents, but now seems almost quaint).

One thing Young won't do, however, is waste his listeners' time with flashy guitar solos.

"I've never really been a follower of that I've-got-22-frets-and-I'm-gonna-use-'em-all school," he laughs. "A solo has to fit the song. If you're playing a slow song, I mean, now and again it's worth zooming up and down the fret board. As my brother, George, used to say, 'Keep it exciting, Angus.'

"But I think my sister-in-law said it best. She said, 'Hey, you can practice at home.' "

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