A friend recently asked me what my worst pet peeves are about going to concerts. It took me all of two seconds to spit out, "Everything is outrageously expensive: the tickets, the parking, the T-shirts and, of course, the ridiculously overpriced beers."
I’ve been a huge fan of AC/DC since I first heard them when I was 11 years old. So it’s difficult for me to even acknowledge that I'm pissed at them for their high-priced tickets. The Stones priced me out a few years ago when their average ticket price sky-rocketed over $200. That’s another band I love, and it pains me to think that I might never see them in concert again.
But ticket prices that high equate to a band giving me the middle finger. No matter how much I love ‘em, I feel have no choice but to return the gesture.
I guess I never thought that AC/DC would succumb to this trend, but on their current tour they're charging upwards of a $100 a ticket (including "service charges," etc.). As purveyors of the most blue collar music on earth, how can they justify those prices? If a guy wants to take his girlfriend to an AC/DC concert nowadays, it’s gonna cost him his entire paycheck, which makes me sick to my stomach. Shaking off a burst of incredulous laughter, Dean Newman, owner of Mole’s Records in Clifton Heights, observed, “With this fucked up economy? Those are the very same blue collar workers facing possible lay-offs in the new year.”
I know how these things work. When a band of great stature plans a tour it's early in the process when the promotion is handed over to a corporate sponsor. The band is paid a huge chunk of their proceeds up front, while the sponsors and tour promoters set the ticket prices. I get that. And I’m perfectly willing to risk appearing naive and idealistic about this when I ask: Does it have to be that way?
How foolish is it of me to think of Angus and the boys as big-hearted old friends who believe they already have plenty of money and they would never do such a thing to their loyal supporters? (Don’t answer that.) The fact is that the band might have little or nothing to do with setting those exorbitant ticket prices.
Truth is, they're clever devils. Say what you want about their exclusive deal with WalMart. It's a brilliant sales tactic and has given AC/DC their first No. 1 album in many years. You can be assured they were paid a huge “signing bonus” just for making the deal in the first place, making a nice profit before a single copy of the disc was sold. Keen-eared listeners have also heard AC/DC as “bumper music” leading in and out of commercial breaks on dozens of big network sports broadcasts in recent weeks. You can bet that somebody in the band’s management cleared the path for this development as well, another tool for raising the band’s profile while they're on tour throughout the fall and winter in support of the new record.
AC/DC’s Black Ice World Tour finally arrived at U.S. Bank Arena on Sunday, and after months of doubts and deliberations I finally decided that I had to go to the show. Sunday afternoon I was tipped off that some good seats right beside the stage had been released through TicketBastard, so I went online and paid the cursed piper.
The less said the better about the highly forgettable opening act The Answer. I had both good and bad feelings for them during their set: Congratulations on snagging the sweet gig; too bad you suck. To be fair, the Rock & Roll concert cliches always begin with the opening band receiving a terrible mix, and this night was no exception. A typical four-piece band whose swaggering frontman tossed his blond mane about like a child throwing a tantrum, The Answer might actually have some talent and some tunes, but the muddy mix offered no real evidence.
After an intermission, the houselights dimmed once again and AC/DC took the stage around 8:30 p.m. Their over-the-top, larger-than-life, bombastic Spinal Tap stage props included a giant bell for singer Brian Johnson to swing from during the intro to “Hells Bells," a scantily-clad, heavily made-up and tattooed three-story tall inflatable woman leering and bobbing over the drum kit for “Whole Lotta Rosie,” the inevitable cannons firing during “For Those About to Rock” and a giant train that crashed through the back of the stage to open the show with the night’s first song, “Rock and Roll Train,” from the new record. (Ironically, it was this new tune that was stuck in my head for hours after the show.) The pillars of flame that heralded the band’s arrival on stage and later accented the finale of their classic “Let There Be Rock” produced such heat that even several rows away from the stage I felt certain my eyebrows were singed.
The band played only three or four tunes from the new record, sticking to classics like “Back in Black,” “Shoot to Thrill,” “Highway to Hell” and an extended Blues jam on “The Jack” that included Angus’ by-now familiar striptease routine. To his credit and my relief, the 53-year-old guitarist shows only his AC/DC boxer shorts when he moons the audience these days.
I gotta tell ya: Angus and the boys can still bring it. His guitar playing and frenetic onstage flailing, kicking, running, spiraling, falling and twitching are just as hilarious and unbelievable as ever. I can’t understand how he can do that for two hours every night without inflicting serious harm on himself. And he’s been doing it since 1974!
From the moment AC/DC hit the stage, all was forgiven. I make no excuses for them or anyone else who allows their ticket prices to be set in the triple digits. I guess one way of looking at it is that today’s ticket prices prevent me from seeing as many shows as I would like to.
Photos by Keith Klenowski