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Dave Roepke, Published January 18 2009

REVIEW: AC/DC fully charges audience at Fargodome

The best thing and the worst thing about AC/DC is the same thing: In output, in outlook, in concert, in nearly all matters, the band is an obstinate machine – rock monotheists following a theology of their own creation. No iTunes, no power ballads, no changing.

Its unwillingness to do anything that stretches beyond its narrow view of awesomeness has long gotten the Australian group the absolute-zero shoulder from critics. Not that this matters. In 2007, a year before new album “Black Ice” came out and seven years after their most recent release, the band sold 1.3 million records in the U.S. Yes, really.

Playing the Fargodome on Saturday night for a crowd of 21,700, AC/DC made the strongest possible argument for the rightness of its way to rock. It was a convincing case. Live, AC/DC still works in only one dimension, but that dimension is out of this world.

If the piston of rhythm pumping through “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap,” the menacing guitar crunch lurking behind “Thunderstruck” or shouting “oi oi oi” along to the swaggering “T.N.T.” didn’t spike your adrenaline, you weren’t in the mood for this sort of thing and probably never will be.

The encore of “Highway to Hell” and “For Those About to Rock,” a couple of tunes that classic-rock radio has been unable to dilute, may have already given the dome, in January, its best finish of the year. A sweet robotic train was the stage centerpiece, later taking on the traditional massive blow-up doll as a passenger.

Yes, it all sounds similar, but a two-hour concert isn’t quite long enough for the repetition to get grating. (The new material late in the 18-song set such as “Anything Goes,” one of five tracks played off “Black Ice,” got mighty close.)

It was pretty much a two-man show, as co-founder and rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young and bassist Cliff Williams spent most of the time lingering toward the back with drummer and chain smoker Phil Rudd. That left the showmanship to lead singer Brian Johnson and Malcolm’s lead guitarist, brother Angus.

Johnson, whose newsboy cap is getting to be as a consistent part of the band’s optics as the schoolboy uniform Angus always wears, was the more active of the two, making full use of a long catwalk at the front of the stage. He sounded like he was probably crisper earlier in the tour – crackling a little around the edges but with enough throat left to reach deep and hit screechy peaks at will.

The actual front man, though, is Angus, an underappreciated guitarist with an over-appreciated fondness for his bag of stage tricks – duck-walking, tongue-wagging, stripping down to his boxers.

This is the element of AC/DC-ism I find most baffling. Why is it necessary for Angus Young, a hobbit-like 53-year-old with Einstein hair, to peel down to his boxers at every show (he was sporting AC/DC undershorts this time, it was American flag drawers when they came to town in 2001) in order for the proceedings to sufficiently rock?

But Angus can still totally hammer it. He did another old standby, his spin-the-guitarist move where he gets down on his back and turns around in circles like he’s having a tantrum, on a hydraulic lift at the end of the catwalk without botching his solo a bit. He then got up and continued completely wailing.

It was impressive enough that it almost made me forget to think to myself, “Why is he on the floor again?” But AC/DC does not play rock designed for thinking. Seeing the band perform live makes it difficult not to suspect that’s the way it should be.


Inforum searchword: Arts and entertainment Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535