Following 1980’s multi-million selling ‘Back In Black’, Brian Johnson helped steer AC/DC to uncharted heights. The band have headlined festivals the world over, filled arenas and held an enduring popularity.
No matter how good or how popular the band became in the 80s and beyond, the material AC/DC released in the 70s is among their very best. On recordings like ‘High Voltage’ and ‘Let There Be Rock’, their style is a little looser and the rock ‘n’ roll ethic hasn’t yet given way to the band’s slightly more metallic tendencies explored throughout Brian Johnson’s tenure fronting the band.
The studio albums are great, but it’s on the live albums where the early AC/DC really hit home. It’s often said that 1978’s ‘If You Want Blood’ is one of the great live albums of the age – that’s a theory with which it is hard to argue and the 2CD soundtrack to the ‘Let There Be Rock: Live In Paris’ film has some cracking performances. However, it’s ‘Live From The Atlantic Studios’ which captures the band on most consistent, lean and mean form. The intimate setting really gives the performance spark.
Bon’s voice is strong throughout the 40-odd minutes; he’s in good spirit, chatting with the small audience between numbers. ‘Live Wire’, ‘Problem Child’ and ‘High Voltage’ set the stage and the Aussie live wire sounds really focused; Phil Rudd and Cliff Williams are impeccably strong in their understated role as rhythm section. What really works here, though, is the volume of the guitars; ‘Live At The Atlantic Studios’ has a feeling throughout of a studio run-through and as a result, the eight numbers don’t offer much difference to the band’s recordings in terms of performance, but that bit of extra volume means these tracks stomp over many of their studio equivalents. Solid renditions of ‘Dog Eat Dog’ and ‘Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be’ maintain the spirit well, but it’s during the second half of the set that AC/DC relax a little and the fun really begins.
An extended version of the bluesy rocker ‘The Jack’ appears here in its best rendition, largely due to having retained the original album lyrics – much preferred over the sexually themed ones, full of schoolboy humour (pun intended) used on ‘If You Want Blood’ and other live performances. An extended arrangement allows the band to really fall into a solid blues groove, with Angus turning in a fine solo en route. The band close their set with the double rock ‘n’ roll whammy of ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ and ‘Rocker’. Both numbers by this point had been established as crowd-pleasers, but during ‘Rocker’ especially, you can feel the sweaty atmosphere, as Angus and co tear it up. It would have been fantastic to have been there: it’s such a great shame this set never filmed for posterity.
For those of you who have the studio albums and have loved them for many years, there’s little else to add, as you know exactly what you’re in for. AC/DC at their most powerful, in front of a tiny audience? If you want a snapshot of a hugely influential band at their most vital, ‘Live From The Atlantic Studios’ gives you what you need.
Bon Scott (09.07.46 – 19.02.80)
*’Live At The Atlantic Studios’ is available as part of the AC/DC ‘Bonfire’ 5CD box set.