Friday, February 17, 2012

they said up, i said down...

I think AC/DC is the band that comes closest to the spirit if not the sound of classic David Lee Roth-era Van Halen. Each was, in essence, a blues based hard rock band, but AC/DC was more elemental and rootsy, making their biggest impact not with flaming guitar solos, though Angus Young could certainly shred a solo when he wanted to, but rather with bone crushing riffs based on simple, immediate power chords. Yet in spite of this basic difference, AC/DC shared the Van Halen worldview (or perhaps it’s the other way around): Sex; violence; aggression; male hormones run amok; the kind of thing that synchs up perfectly with the adolescent male mindset… David Lee Roth’s persona made Van Halen’s sexual preoccupation a little more complicated than what AC/DC’s traditional Australian ladishness would allow. There was always a vague gay subtext with Diamond Dave, yet I’m convinced the guy was completely straight. I guess it’s just that when you dress a pretty boy up in assless leather chaps and get him prancing around the stage, almost like a Chippendales stripper, it’s gonna seem a little gay sometimes. Bon Scott was, by contrast, a tattooed mutt, back when tats were still badass, and he had bad teeth and not an ounce of sexual ambiguity. …I’d be really torn if you held a gun to my head and asked me to choose between the two bands, but I think I’d have to go with AC/DC. What puts them over the top for me is that there’s two guitarists. I always like my guitar-driven music to have a rhythm guitar. And Malcolm Young is one of the great rhythm guitarists of all time. If Michael Anthony’s backing vocals are the secret to Van Halen’s excellence, the same can be said for Malcolm Young’s rhythm guitar playing with AC/DC, which adds so much to the band’s absolutely devastating sound. Angus and Malcolm often do this thing, like in tonight’s song, where the song opens with a simple three or four chord riff, amd then the second guitar comes in after a few measures. But rather than play a lead, the second guitar simply replicates the opening riff, with the chords maybe voiced differently, so that the two guitars are playing the same thing. You might think doing this is duplicative, but you’d be dead wrong. It makes the riff sound so much ballsier and impactful… On Van Halen records, Eddie plays the rhythm riff and then the lead gets played separately on another track. This sounds incredible in the studio but can’t be replicated live, and I think it’s why, for all the showmanship and spectacle of a Van Halen concert, the band’s live sound was never that good. Eddie had to hold the whole thing together without the benefit of a second guitarist. This was never a problem with AC/DC. As great as their records were, the bricks-and-bats energy of their live sound took their power and forcefulness to a completely different level. I saw them with my brother in 1980 at the Nassau Coliseum. This was probably less than a year after Bonn Scott died. I didn’t own any of their records at the time, but I became a hugely devoted fan after seeing Angus and Malcolm do their thing that night. Again, as was the case with Van Halen, they were so loud, so nasty, so against everything that dogged me in my life at the time – rules, manners and uptight, repressed people – and they did it with such cocksure swagger and flair. It’s no overstatement to say that that concert was a pivotal for me. It opened me up to a completely different way of thinking about things...

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