Review: Coachella 2015: AC/DC delivers dirty deeds in desert set

Angus Young of AC/DC onstage at Coachella.

Angus Young of AC/DC onstage at Coachella.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

It was a set that featured explosions, duck-walked guitar antics, much vocal yowling and a tract-home sized inflatable woman, buxom and bikinied, that popped into shape during “Whole Lotta Rosie.”

Loud, dumb and occasionally effective, AC/DC closed the first night of Coachella 2015 with gnarly riffs, a rumbling bottom end and Angus Young solos galore. Within songs about rocking hard, going to hell, killing for hire and riding a train while “living on ecstasy,” five men roared their way through songs that listeners of all ages have internalized -- whether they wanted to or not.

FULL COVERAGE: Coachella 2015


They powered through “Back in Black,” “Hell’s Bells,” “You Shook Me All Night Long,” “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You),” and peppered their set with work from their typically reductive new album, “Rock or Bust.” By the end, hell’s bells rang, and the reaper didn’t seem too far behind.

But from the opening riffs of “Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be,” there was a disconnect. In gigging alongside some of the most innovative young artists making music today, the band, formed in 1973 by brothers Malcolm and Angus Young, confirmed an irrelevance among a generation for whom their particularly masculine displays of prowess seem as much an anachronism in 2015 as the Marlboro Man. An inflatable woman? In an age of high-tech concert wonder, who does that? AC/DC does, and they’ve done it for years at exactly the same moment.

“I hope you guys like rock ‘n’ roll because that’s all we do,” said singer Brian Johnson, donning a nearly identical hat to the one he’s worn for decades. Behind him lead guitarist Angus Young, 60, wore a plush red schoolboy’s outfit. Over the course of the set as he became further unhinged while soloing, he gradually stripped down to his shorts -- grandpa-style with black shoes.

To its credit, AC/DC’s booking was a gutsy move on Coachella’s part. Connecting historical dots, building musical bridges across decades -- that’s what the festival does best. Steely Dan’s smooth, assured presence earlier in the night was equally laudable. (Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen, acknowledging the generation gap, introduced himself and his partner Walter Becker as “Uncle Don and Uncle Wally.)

But with AC/DC, the play for unity ended up being anything but. Lyrical lunkheadedness rolled across the field, the kind that’s as passe as calling women “chicks” in 2015. At times AC/DC’s set was so thick that it seemed one knowing wink away from Spinal Tap. Except this wasn’t a joke.

COACHELLA 2015: Plan your schedule


“There’s a story going around that AC/DC never played a ballad,” Johnson said. “We’d argue with that.” Then the band dived into its crawling blues song about a woman with a venereal disease, “The Jack.” How romantic.

When Johnson, to open “Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be,” described a lover who “Pours my beer / Licks my ear / Brings out the devil in me,” the danger bordered on cartoonish, if it didn’t also hint at drunken lechery to come. Hell ain’t a bad place to be? Some of us beg to differ.

Still, when done right, cartoons can be entertaining, and at its best AC/DC delivered honestly rendered takes on male drive and power while keeping away from casual misogyny. With that classic guitar riff and scream-along chorus, “You Shook Me All Night Long” was an undeniably powerful celebration of a memorable escapade.

Out in the crowd, bikini-clad young women twirled and screamed, dancing like they were still moving to DJ Snake a few hundred yards away. They kept dancing for “Highway to Hell,” as well, a song so engrained into the American psyche through classic rock radio spins that it may as well be our national anthem.

Still, the band couldn’t hold them. Fans and passers-by crowded the area to start, but by the time AC/DC moved into mid-set, many had moved on. How many redundant guitar solos is your average 20-something willing endure? Not many, especially when DJ Alesso was offering a more contemporary brand of musical bombast than the one happening on the main stage -- and without the inflatable Rosie.

Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit. And follow Classic Rock on Facebook.