The Plaza de Toro in Madrid is an incredible looking venue. “Nice place you got here!” understates Brian Johnson. To film a concert video here seems an easy decision. A crane and giant wrecking ball dominate the scene. The ball swings and bowls over the backdrop! Enter: Angus Young!
“Back in Black”* is a natural opener: Everybody knows it, and the groove is impossible to ignore. Johnson’s voice is ragged and weak compared to the old days, although I think Brian sounds better in general today. A pre-crystal meth Phil Rudd dons spectacles, and hammers out the beat that, truthfully, he invented and does best. Having Phil back for that period of the band was a coup. It’s back to the Bon Scott years then, with “Shot Down in Flames”. Now Brian sounds more in his element, somehow seeming more in control on a Bon song. As if it took them one song to warm up, everything feels in gear now. Then, “Thunderstruck” is an interesting take, because Phil didn’t play this song before. Chris Slade was in the band at that time, and Phil doesn’t even try to imitate his style. He plays “Thunderstruck” his own way, which is fine. There’s a live version, with Slade, on AC/DC Live. With Phil on the kit, “Thunderstruck” is no longer filled with nervous energy, but is more in the pocket. It’s an interesting evolution. Contrast this with any live video of the current lineup playing the song with Slade today.
“Girls Got Rhythm” is an easy classic, which warms the crowd up with a newbie: “Hard as a Rock”*, the single from Ballbreaker. All but instantly, it sounds like a familiar classic. This is high quality rock, with Johnson’s voice in full shred. Colourful lights illuminate the stage, but only Brian and Angus are really mobile. Cliff Williams and Malcolm Young rock steadily, sticking to their respective sides, and stepping up to the mic for the big chorus. The crowd goes nuts when Angus himself speaks. The stage is huge, but Brian Johnson runs across every inch, interacting with the massive crowd as a veteran frontman can. Then AC/DC knock ’em down (down down) easily on “Shoot to Thrill”. There is a rock and roll purity to this show: A bunch of guys in jeans (Angus excepted), playing hard rock and roll, but contrasted with that is the massive stage. AC/DC can do it because people love the personalities of the band. Angus doesn’t miss a note, no matter where he’s running off to next.
Phil smokes a cigarette during the blues number “Boogie Man”. Starting sluggishly, “Boogie Man” nails it as soon as Brian gets screaming. I’m sure AC/DC can play this kind of thing in their sleep! Angus has an extended solo during which he gets the crowd riled up and ready with his strip-tease moment. When he finally drops his drawers, his undies have the Spanish flag on them. Madrid eats every bit of it up. AC/DC clustered a bunch of new songs close to each other at this point, and “Hail Caesar”** is next. It’s time for a heavy prowler, and Caesar brings it on.
When the bell tolls, you know what’s happening. “Hell’s Bells”! Songs like this, “Dog Eat Dog”** and “The Jack” require no commentary. The sight of Johnson descending from a giant iron bell is pretty cool.
Last newbie of the night is “Ballbreaker”* itself, a blast of “shut the fuck up and listen t0 this” right in the face. This time, Brian is swinging from the wrecking ball, singing the whole time, kicking his feet in the air. AC/DC have crushed it…but there’s still lots more to go. “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution”, “Dirty Deeds”, “You Shook Me All Night Long”**, “Rosie”*, “T.N.T.”…it’s all a good time, and you know them all. The only real critique is there is a gap in the setlist, with no songs from 1983-1988 appearing anywhere.
“Let There Be Rock” is, as usual, extended to epic length with Angus’ brilliant solo. First of all, it’s incredible that Angus still has this much energy after playing and stomping through a show this long. What’s really amazing is that everybody in the band is fully fueled for this full-speed song. Malcolm sips from a water bottle — that’s the key, folks. Hydration.
The cool part here is when Angus departs the stage (band playing on), to re-emerge atop the massive shoulders of a bodyguard and taken to a flying platform in the middle of the crowd! Many thrills later, Brian says goodnight, but you know he’s teasing. “Highway to Hell” commences with explosions, flames and Angus’ devil horns. And then, finally,the cannons” “For Those About to Rock” is the salute to Madrid , who witnessed an absolutely incredible AC/DC concert.
The DVD bonus features are cool, as you should expect. The “Angus Cam” versions of four songs is plenty fun, by focusing solely on Angus in the edit. It’s quite incredible to just watch the man play, because it seems as if he is entranced, on auto-pilot, but totally in command. If there wasn’t a guitar around his neck you might think he’s having a seizure! Then come the moments when he looks the crowd in the eye, and the playing only gets more intense! Like I said: this is plenty fun.
Then we have two bonus tracks not included in the Madrid set: “Cover You in Oil” (Sweden) and “Down Payment Blues” (Florida). “Cover You in Oil” is raw and sweaty. I don’t think the song is particularly strong, sounding a bit like a Blow Up Your Video outtake. Still, it’s always nice to get another new song on the DVD, since it’s doubtful a track like this will ever re-enter the setlists. The stupid music video footage that is edited into the tracks is annoying, however. Instead of watching Angus take a solo live, I’m watching him doing it in a music video. Bad editing decision. I like how Brian introduces “Down Payment Blues”: “This is from one of the albums…back in the 70’s…” Shit, he doesn’t know, he wasn’t there! But he gets the job done anyhow. And guess what? Brian Johnson is wearing the same damn blue shirt and hat at every show! His snarl adds to this version of the song.
What’s with the “Director’s Cut”? It seems the original 1996 VHS release (which I never saw) was rushed out for the Christmas season to the dissatisfaction of award winning director David Mallet. He did a new edit, and new stereo and 5.1 mixes for the DVD release.
*Indicates this version is available in audio form on the 2 CD edition of Stiff Upper Lip.
**Indicates this version is available in audio form on the deluxe Backtracks box set.