AC/DC rocks, busts during super-sized Ford Field show

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

“Rock or Bust” is the name of AC/DC’s latest album, its current tour and the first song the band played at Ford Field on Tuesday night.

There’s no doubt the band’s two-hour, 20-song show rocked, and if today you happen speak to any of the 43,000 fans who were in attendance, do them a favor and speak a little louder so they can hear you over the ringing in their ears.

But the concert also felt like a bust, an oversized rock show that couldn’t justify its space and overcompensated by cranking up the volume.

Arena concerts and stadium concerts are very different animals, and Tuesday’s was an arena show inflated to stadium level. (AC/DC has been playing arenas for decades, and Tuesday was its first-ever stadium show in Detroit.) The strain showed, with 67-year-old lead singer Brian Johnson’s limited arsenal of moves — he strutted across the stage, did sort of an elbow dance, made his way to the other side of the stage and repeated — not packing much of a visual punch on the gigantic stage.

That left the rest of the weight on the shoulders of guitarist Angus Young — guitarist Stevie Young, bassist Cliff Williams and drummer Chris Slade hung at the back of the stage like they were grounded for bad behavior and weren’t allowed to leave — and there’s only so many times you can watch the guy do his patented duck walk across the stage. (Once is plenty.)

There was very little in the way of crowd interaction, with Johnson briefly addressing fans after the first song and barely again — not that we needed to hear the origin story of “Thunderstruck,” but it might have been nice. And while a catwalk from the stage stretched out into the crowd, it wasn’t until 17 songs and nearly three-quarters of the way through the show that it was utilized for the first time. The rest of the time it just sat there like a tease.

But there was plenty of rock, with songs about Hell (“Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be,” “Highway to Hell” and “Hell’s Bells,” the last of which was accompanied, as usual, by a super-sized bell suspended from the top of the stage), fire (“Baptism by Fire,” “Shot Down in Flames”) and rock and roll (“Rock or Bust,” “Rock N’ Roll Train,” “Let There be Rock” and closer “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)”) played at ear-splitting levels.

For his lack of visual oomph, Johnson sounded stellar, his distinctive vocals coming out like a cartoon weasel, like it somehow always has. (It’s a wonder the guy doesn’t get tons of side work doing voices for animated movies.)

And Angus Young, at 60 and still in his trademark schoolboy uniform, spoke through his guitar, often contorting his mouth like he either had candy stuck to his back teeth or the music was flowing through his lower jaw. Young closed the set with a monster guitar solo that stretched past the 12-minute mark, easily twice as long as it needed to be, but if there’s a lasting image from the concert it is him standing triumphant at the end of the catwalk, surrounded by hands below reaching up to him as if they were praying in a temple of rock.

There should have been more of those moments, ones designed to make the massive space feel more inviting. Ty Taylor, lead singer of opening band Vintage Trouble, crowd-surfed during his band’s set, making more of a connection to the crowd than AC/DC was able to the whole night.

When Taylor Swift played Ford Field in May, she rode a cherry picker above the crowd and made the back row feel not so far away; One Direction had a ramp that stretched more than half the stadium floor and the group members spent a good deal of their show working it from all sides. AC/DC seemed less interested in reaching out. Those about to rock deserved a better salute.