"For those about to rock, we salute you!"
AC/DC is one of the most popular and successful hard rock/heavy metal bands in the entire world. Their towering achievement, 1980's Back In Black, is the second best selling album in the world at over 42 million copies. While their follow-up recording, For Those About To Rock (We Salute You) topped the charts in America, AC/DC's career quickly began to slip shortly afterwards. They went from chart toppers in 1981 to almost forgotten by the end of the decade. While they had a few memorable moments in between, such as the Who Made Who collection (a soundtrack to the utterly forgettable Stephen King schlock fest Maximum Overdrive), as the 90's dawned, the band seemed thoroughly irrelevant.
Clearly the group's dwindling impact was not lost on Angus and Malcolm Young, the band's guitarists and songwriters (and brothers). The early 90's was a good time for 70's metal, with Kiss, Ozzy Osbourne, and Judas Priest all releasing late era albums that reminded everyone why they were important in the first place (those albums were Revenge, No More Tears, and Painkiller, respectively). Perhaps the Young brothers picked up on the winds blowing back in their direction and took advantage, or maybe something shocked them out of their creative malaise. Either way, they pumped out a set of killer songs on their 1990 release The Razor's Edge.
Led by the pounding attack of "Thunderstruck," the album brought AC/DC back into the public eye, and like those other aforementioned albums, reminded everyone why they had bothered to pay attention in the first place. It also helped that the rest of album was grade A work, including tracks like "Money Talks" and "Mistress For Christmas." AC/DC jumped at the opportunity to increase their exposure, playing sold out shows around the world. Most notably, they headlined that year's Monsters of Rock Festival in Donington, England.
Music video director David Mallet (best known for his longtime association with David Bowie) saw what a momentous occasion the Festival was, and offered to film the show for the band. They readily agreed, and thank goodness they did. The finished film, Live At Donington, is not only the best filmed performance of AC/DC, but one of the most powerful and rocking live shows ever put on film by anyone.
The show begins with AC/DC coming out on the stage, ready to thrill and excite the massive crowd (which I believe numbered in the hundreds of thousands). Angus Young plays the opening riff to "Thunderstruck," and the rest of the band joins in, leaving only Brian Johnson to come out from the wings. From there, they never let up, playing for two hours and driving the crowd wild.
Brian Johnson is not the wild outlaw front man that Bon Scott was, but Angus Young has always been a showman and AC/DC's focal point, and he takes center stage here. He's never standing still, running from one side of the stage to the other, up ramps, down slopes, a fireball of rock energy. His playing is inspired. For all of his antics, he never flubs a note and always pushes the performance forward.
The rest of the band keep pace musically, while remaining grounded on the stage. They provide the counterpoint to Angus, leaving him free to roam. The band was given an extra boost by veteran drummer Chris Slade, a propulsive musician who provided driving rhythms for their new material and revitalized their old songs. In short, the band is on fire.
On the commentary provided on this disc, Angus Young comments that he thinks this was the best show they played at Donington (having headlined twice before), and it's easy to see why. With two straight hours of non-stop, balls to the wall rock and roll, any fan of the band will want to see this document. It proves that AC/DC will always be the snotty upstarts of hard rock. AC/DC, you still rock, and I salute you!
The setlist for the show is as follows:
"Shoot To Thrill"
"Back In Black"
"Hell Ain't A Bad Place To Be"
"Fire Your Guns"
"Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap"
"Whole Lotta Rosie"
"You Shook Me All Night Long"
"Let There Be Rock"
"Highway To Hell"
"For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)"
The Blu-Ray Disc:
Sony presents Live At Donington in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, opened up slightly from the film's original exhibition ratio of 1.85:1 with little impact on the overall composition. While the promotional materials make a big deal of the fact that there was a full remaster for this AVC-encoded 1080p transfer, it still doesn't look all that good. The colors are faded, detail on medium and long shots are lacking. When you see shots of the audience, people with similarly colored clothing tend to blend together, looking like a sea of disembodied heads. The close-ups look better, but there's nothing here that will wow you.
Holy shit! Sony offers an uncompressed PCM 5.1 mix (48 kHz/24 bit) that blew me away. The fidelity of this track is unbelievable. Angus' guitar slices through the air, commanding your attention. Even as I was listening to the sound just for review purposes, I couldn't help but head bang along. Brian Johnson's vocals never get drowned out, as there's plenty of separation between the band members. For comparison, I popped on the other available audio options, Dolby Digital 5.1 and PCM stereo. The Dolby Digital was utterly anemic, with much less range. The PCM stereo sounded good, of course, but switching it back to the surrounds, you could hear the whole sound stage open up. My only issue is that I wish the bass could have been a little heavier, especially on Chris Slade's drums. Aside from that, though, this is one of the best mixes I've heard for any material, and certainly the best music-based mix I've heard yet on either format.
Sony doesn't overload Live At Donington with extras, preferring quality over quantity. The supplements here are very cool and should please any fan of the band. In addition to the extras on the disc, the set also comes with a booklet that contains their Razor's Edge tour dates, articles, and photos.
- Commentary with Angus and Malcolm Young: The Young Brothers, along with a moderator, discuss the band and the show. Considering that they're the masterminds behind one of the most commercially successful bands in all of history, they're surprisingly down to earth. They comment on how genuinely appreciative they are for their fans, understanding that they wouldn't be where they are without the people who support them. They discuss the show in particular, as well as a larger overview of their career. Great, great stuff.
- Iso-Cams: You get the chance to follow individual band members through entire songs. Angus gets "Highway To Hell," "Back In Black," and "Thunderstruck." Brian gets "Whole Lotta Rosie." Malcolm has "T.N.T." Cliff gets "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap." While 4x3, all the Iso-Cam material is 1080i high definition.
- Discography: I enjoyed this one. As you watch the show, there is a small lightning bolt at the upper right corner of the screen. By hitting enter, it brings up the discography entry for the song they're performing. So, if they're playing "Heatseeker," and you click on the bolt, an entry pops up for the album Blow Up Your Video, with the release date and full track list. The song in question is highlighted. You can also view the discography on its own, and it's more than just the studio albums. Live albums, collections of rarities, video collections, it's all here. Even better, if you view them outside of the concert, you get commentary by Angus and Malcolm Young that is as forthcoming as the one on the feature.
AC/DC. Monsters of Rock. Hundreds of thousands of screaming fans. Rock and roll! The band, energized by the best set of material they had in years, command the stage for two full hours. The image quality here is nothing impressive (in fact, it's often disappointing), but the sound quality is so utterly superb that it alone makes the disc worth a purchase. Toss in a collection of high quality extras and you've got a disc that should be an immediate purchase for any AC/DC fan, even if they already own this on DVD. The sound is so good that it's worth the upgrade. Highly Recommended.