We begin as any discussion of AC/DC should: with a thought experiment.
Last week, as part of her continuing effort to prove she knows everyone in show business, Taylor Swift invited Mick Jagger to join her for a rendition of the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" at her concert in Nashville. The result, by all accounts, was a gas-gas-gas, with Swift doing her shock-and-awe thing in the presence of a legend and Jagger clearly relishing the booster shot of pop relevance.
Now imagine that instead of Jagger, Swift brought out the frontman of the world's other great legacy rock act, Brian Johnson, to do AC/DC's "Big Balls."
Take your time – I'll be here when you're finished scoffing.
Like tortoises (without much hair), Johnson and his bandmates stand proudly apart from their peers seeking an entry point into modern pop culture. They look at a world in which old-fashioned rock 'n' roll has become an endangered species and say, "Oh yeah? Watch this."
On Monday night the veteran Australian group was showing off at Dodger Stadium, where AC/DC drew tens of thousands of fans for the final U.S. date of its world tour behind last year's "Rock or Bust" album. The two-hour concert featured no special guests. It contained no EDM remixes. And though the band played new music in the form of several cuts from "Rock or Bust," the fresh tunes fit right into a set list dominated by familiar classics.
You would've been forgiven for wondering lately if AC/DC's resolve had softened slightly – if in fact the band was finally adapting to the times, perhaps in the wake of losing two key members in guitarist Malcolm Young (who's currently suffering from dementia) and drummer Phil Rudd (who was arrested in 2014 on charges of drug possession and threatening to kill).
In April, AC/DC joined Drake and Jack White as headliners of this year's famously youth-attuned Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Then, following a long holdout, the group made its catalog available for digital streaming on platforms like Spotify and Apple Music.
But even a stick in the mud can feel which way the wind is blowing. And Coachella -- well, it turned out to be just another gig.
"I hope you guys like rock 'n' roll," Johnson said at the time, "because that's all we do."
The singer didn't need to repeat that line Monday, of course. These were AC/DC's faithful, many of whom had seen the band before and were willing to drop 15 bucks on a pair of blinking red devil horns for the occasion. For their loyalty they were rewarded with precisely what they'd come for: crunching guitar riffs, freight-train rhythms and words about the value of crunching guitar riffs and freight-train rhythms.
As at Coachella (and a zillion earlier AC/DC shows), what gave the ritual its power was the know-how that transforms a simple song into one that feels inevitable. Props here to guitarist Stevie Young, filling in for his uncle Malcolm, and drummer Chris Slade, who swung "Back in Black" so hard he made me spill my beer.
Yet as AC/DC has stayed the same, the world around it has changed, and part of what makes the band a thrill to behold in 2015 is how radical its de-personalizing effort now seems. Today pop stars such as Swift (or Dave Grohl) are determined to be your best friend, as though the music were a mere inducement to get you to follow them on Instagram.
But the men of AC/DC aren't interested in learning much about you; they're not even interested in your learning much about them. At Dodger Stadium, Johnson hardly uttered a word of banter between songs, and he used a runway that extended out into the crowd only a few times. Sure, Angus Young is leaning on a well developed persona, but what exactly are his signature schoolboy uniform and duck walk telling you about him apart from, hey, that's Angus Young?
The funny thing is that AC/DC's approach is speaking to young people – or at least the ones being forced by their parents to listen. At Monday's concert I saw more school-age kids evidently enjoying themselves (even in the presence of Mom or Dad) than at any show since Swift set up shop last month at Staples Center.
Maybe Jagger should be angling to join these guys onstage.