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AC/DC: Let There Be Rock
It's one of those debates that never ends well. Like arguing over Dave vs. Sammy among Van Halen purists or Steve Perry/Dennis De Young vs. various unknown sound alikes for the Journey/Styx contingent, there will always be a division (minor, but still worth mentioning) between lovers of the late great Bon Scott and AC/DC's current longtime front man, Brian Johnson. The former was actually the seminal riff rocking band's second lead singer, after Dave Evans was shown the door. Helping lift the Aussie neophytes from nobodies to known heavy metal mavericks, he was around for such amazing albums as High Voltage, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and the great Highway to Hell. Then, as brightly as he burned, he equally burned out, dying of his addiction to alcohol and the fast living life he embodied because of same. Distraught, the band regrouped, hired Johnson, and recorded the second most popular album in the history of music (49 million unites and counting), Back in Black. Still, Scott remained an enigma. In fact, if you wanted to see him live, you had to suffer through a bad bootleg of a 1979 French concert appearance. Not anymore. The band have just released a newly remastered version of the film - Let There Be Rock - and to say it is a revelation is the jolliest of understatements. It's plain magic!
Following a format similar to Led Zeppelin's The Song Remains the Same - concert footage with some interview material and fantasy/filmed sequences interspersed - this amazing movie record of AC/DC's last tour with Bon Scott is simple, no holds barred, balls to the wall rock and roll. The group can literally do no wrong as they plow through the following set list:
Shot Down in Flames
Hell Ain't a Bad Place to Be
Walk All Over You
Bad Boy Boogie
Highway to Hell
Girls Got Rhythm
Whole Lotta Rosie
Let There Be Rock
Along the way, we hear about the songwriting process, playing live, and living the rock star dream. It's all so very drunken and delightful.
You have to see Bon Scott to believe him. Shirtless, tight jeaned, arms festooned with what looks like a longshoreman's version of prison and/or biker tattoos, and a mop of hair hiding his often sheepish, mischievous grin, he looks like Bad Company's Paul Rodgers' less hygienic brother, a scrappy ass kicker who men wish they could be and the ladies long to be with. The minute he walks on the small French stage for the opening number, "Live Wire", he literally commands it. Angus, decked out in his school boy's uniform, can duck walk from one side of the venue to the other, his face an O-mouthed expression of power chord chaos and yet he can't pull the Let There Be Rock spotlight away from Scott. He's a god in a chain gang member's garb, a walking/talking/wailing epitome of what a formidable rock frontman should be. Though AC/DC does little to accent their noise - there are no pyrotechnics or stage antics here, their singer provides all the explosiveness they need. Watching Let There Be Rock, one free associates on what the band might have been had Scott lived, had Johnson never come on, and how the outfit would function today, some 32 years later, touring stadiums and accepting placement in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Of course, none of that happened, leaving a kind of melancholy cloud over Let There Be Rock. The music definitely hasn't aged, the duel guitar attack of the Young brothers offering a true sonic tour de force. With simple, memorable riffs, a reliance on sing-along choruses, and a real connection with the crowd, AC/DC are the perfect aural salesmen here. No matter the sentiment - sex, drugs, death, the Devil - the guys give it all they got...and then some. They want to make sure that no fan leaves unsatisfied, that no adolescent male walks out the door without their favorite rock and roll fantasy fulfilled. Scott, sweaty and swarthy, exudes the kind of mythic male machismo that makes even the strongest heart palpitate, if just a bit. He is that rarity, that real star carved out of little more than swagger and solid talent. He could be singing about the items he needs from the local grocery store and it would sound hot, dangerous, and rife with innuendo. He is backed by an equally brilliant noise, the basics of rock turned right up to, and often past, 11.
It's hard to pick a 'best' moment here - all the songs are sensational. Highlights would definitely be "Hell Ain't A Bad Place to Be," "The Jack," "Whole Lotta Rosie," and the always amazing "Highway to Hell." As Scott banters in between, we can't wait for the next fix of fire starting power. Young is indeed possessed a lot of the time, his head a nonstop blur of constant motion. It's as if, as the start of each song, he waits for a particular demon to grab him, and then lets the rabid rock music muse take over. Scott, on the other hand, just stares down the darkness, looking directly into the audience and connecting with each and every member of his growing cult of personality. About the only downside to Let There Be Rock is that, naturally, it only covers the band's early career. You really do miss later anthems like "Back in Black", "Who Made Who", and "Thunderstruck". Also, the show is short - barely breaking 90 minutes. We want more...More...MORE!!! More Scott. More Young, More small scale rock and roll revivalism. Eventually, AC/DC would become one of the greatest, if not the greatest, band in the world. This is then on the precipice of such massive international fame, and the view from here is fantastic.
Some things to remember before you rush out and pick up this set. (A) It is a filmed concert with insert material, so you will get some annoying interference within the performances. (B) The original aspect ratio was 1.33:1 and that has been maintained here. No widescreen work up is offered (C) The otherwise exceptional 1080p high definition AVC encode was taken from the best elements available. You won't get the standard depth of a newer release, but considering the crappy versions you had to suffer through in the past just to see this show, the update is indeed a revelation. (D) The directing is not the most inspired. If you are looking for MTV style splash, go elsewhere. The camerawork is justified, if rather journeyman. (E) The limited edition release - reviewed here - also contains the DVD version of the show. All in all, it looks amazing. Enjoy!
This is where Let There Be Rock really shines. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is amazing, full bodied and crystal clear. When Angus breaks into the opening riff of "Highway to Hell," the speakers seem to be signaling the arrival of Satan himself. The channels take the various simplistic elements - drum, bass, axe, voice - and merge them together in a way the original Dolby 2.0 presentation (also offered) can't. There is also a great spatial element to the various instruments that the older offering can't match.
As part of the Limited Edition tin, one is treated to a wealth of added content. On the disc itself, you get five mini-documentaries. They focus on the band's legacy ("Loud, Locked, and Loaded"), their reliance on the riff ("AC/DC: The Bedrock of Riff"), Scott, Angus, and the group's enduring influence. There is also a collection of six "discussions" focusing on various songs from the set. In addition, the Blu-ray comes with an option that allows you to organize the performance any way you want, putting the songs in whatever order you like. There is also a cardboard case which contains a booklet (which includes a terrific essay by Anthony Bozza), a set of lobby card/photo reprints, and an Angus guitar pick (Hell YA!). It's a package befitting such a landmark film and band.
Today, AC/DC are a stadium rock myth, the kind of iconic group that one puts on their personal bucket list before the notion of live music goes the way of the dinosaur, the newspaper, and the video store. As they run through their well honed set list, as Brian Johnson struggles through some of the higher notes, everything about the band's legacy becomes concrete crystal clear. Sadly, until now, there was little Bon Scott to supplement said situation. With Let There Be Rock, all that's changed. It definitely deserves a DVD Talk Collector's Series stamp of approval. Sure, it may not have all the songs you remember, but it definitely contains one's that you should know. It also highlights the first heart of this amazing band - a scrawny, scrappy skull cracker named Bon Scott. His was/is a fiery facade sorely missed. It's also the main reason Let There Be Rock remains a timeless testament.
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