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Danger! Darkness! Devilry! AC/DC were back in town, and northwest London braced itself for the onslaught. In fact, looking around the crowd as I approached Wembley Stadium, I found that nowadays a trip to see the veteran hard rock band is a day out for the family (with a bit of shopping at nearby designer outlets thrown in), a night out for young couples or ageing rockers, a chance for dads to show their sons what “real” music is all about, or a trip down nostalgia lane for groups of blokes in faded vintage tour T-shirts. Together, they descended on Wembley, wearing their little flashing plastic red devil’s horns, photographing each other, thumbs aloft. Near one of the entrances a drugs sniffer dog was having no joy; these fans were a clean-living lot.
They were rewarded with two hours of uncompromisingly loud and brutally powerful music from the Australia-based five-piece, uninterrupted by banter or drum solos, frill-free and thrilling. Guitarist Angus Young, tonight as always dressed in a schoolboy uniform (in what looked like red velour) and cap, is now the sole surviving founder member, though rhythm guitarist Cliff Williams has been with them since 1977. Original drummer Phil Rudd is in New Zealand awaiting sentencing on charges of drug possession and threatening to kill and has been replaced on this tour by Chris Slade, who played drums from 1989-94. But the comings and goings of various personnel over the past 40 years have not altered the band’s formula by a single molecule: one-third blues, one-third boogie, one-third metal.
Singer Brian Johnson, flat-capped as ever, strutted like an overexcited chicken and screeched like a turbocharged Tina Turner (it struck me tonight how many AC/DC songs owe a debt of gratitude to “Nutbush City Limits”). But it’s Young who is the real frontman. He’s a curious figure with his skinny little white legs doing the Chuck Berry duckwalk, but he’s a hell of a guitarist, chugging and twiddling and riffing and screaming and hammering. “Let There Be Rock” was epic, with Young skittering along a thrust stage into the crowd, soloing magnificently and inventively for minutes on end; “Hells Bells”, with its crushing riff, was spine-tinglingly good; “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”, with its neolithic lyrics, was a blast. Pyrotechnics and cannons enhanced the experience.
As darkness fell, those flashing devil’s horns came into their own, transforming the stadium into a pulsing expanse of warm twinkly humanity. The crowd bellowed “Highway to Hell”. It was heaven.