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AC/DC soldiers on, despite turmoil
Shortly before the December 2014 release of AC/DC's latest album, "Rock Or Bust," guitarist and co-founder Angus Young sat in a New York City hotel room ruminating on some issues the band was facing at the time.
Chief among them was the retirement of his brother and fellow guitarist Malcolm Young, whose dementia and other health issues had forced him out of the band he'd started with his brother. "He wanted us to carry on," Angus Young, 61, said. "He loved the band, loved the music. He didn't want it to stop."
AC/DC hasn't stopped. But continuing has not been easy. In fact, carrying on has been a Herculean effort that only became more challenging as the "Rock or Bust" campaign has gone along.
As the album came out, drummer Phil Rudd was beset with legal problems and confined to home arrest in New Zealand; AC/DC brought in Chris Slade, who was previously with the band from 1989-94, for the tour supporting the album.
Then, in March, frontman Brian Johnson was ordered off the road by doctors who said he risked total hearing loss -- the result of long-term exposure to both loud music and the race car engines that were his hobby. AC/DC had to postpone 10 U.S. shows, which the group is in the process of making up, but surprised fans by not quitting but rather recruiting Guns N' Roses frontman Axl Rose, a huge fan of the band, to step into Johnson's place.
The move was initially controversial, but Rose won fans over with strong performances in Europe during the spring -- initially sitting in the "throne" Dave Grohl used on the last Foo Fighters tour after Rose suffered a broken foot. The band also threw fans some bones by dipping dip into its catalog for long-unplayed material such as "If You Want Blood (You've Got It)," "Riff Raff," "Touch Too Much," "Rock 'N' Roll Damnation" and "Live Wire," the latter for the first time in 34 years at the opening show of its current U.S. swing on Aug. 27 in Greensboro, S.C.
"With Axl, we've been able to mix up quite a few songs, do a few older ones and put them, which we haven't done in a number of years," Young said in a video interview the band distributed from Europe. "We always used to kind of get a setlist, and that would be (it) for a tour. So now we've got a lot more adding and putting in different tracks, and the fun part is when we get there on the stage, and seeing it come to life in front of the audience and seeing the reaction."
Kiss bassist, Gene Simmons -- an avowed AC/DC fan -- is among those giving a thumbs-up to AC/DC's new situation. "It's really a great thing," he notes. "I think it gave all parties concerned some renewed energy, that proverbial kick in the ass. (Rose has) led his own band for so many years -- now he has something new to prove. And that's never a bad thing."
Original GNR manager Vicky Hamilton, meanwhile, notes that Rose "was always a fan" of AC/DC, as was the rest of the band.
"They definitely had a liking for AC/DC," she recalls. "They covered some of their songs in the show. I'm a little surprised he's doing it now, with all the (GNR) stuff going on, but more power to him."
During a public interview in June at the China Exchange in London, Rose said that he reached out to AC/DC because he knew that "they were going to have a lot of problems" if the group canceled its tour commitments after Johnson was sidelined. And his overarching affection for the group inspired him to step into the breach.
"I feel protective," Rose, 54, explained in London. "I do not want to let (Young) down, more than almost anybody I've ever met. And I don't know why.
"And he's very responsive to me. And they said they hadn't seen him this happy...So that's kind of a neat thing between musicians."
Rose did fess up to being worried about how AC/DC's audience will react to him fronting the band, however. "I know how hard it is," he acknowledged. "Lots of bands do not want to open for (GNR); They don't want to deal with our fans. It's kind of the same with AC/DC fans. They're very serious about their band."
Having won the day and salvaged the tour, AC/DC's future is now up for grabs. Johnson has been working with new hearing technology that could allow him to sing again, while Rudd has cleaned up his act and says he wants to return to the band. But Cliff Williams, AC/DC's bassist since 1977, has announced plans to retire after the tour wraps Sept. 20 in Philadelphia.
Rose, for his part, sounds like he'd like to continue to juggle both AC/DC and GNR; He said in London that he and Young "are talking about working together," with no definite plans -- at least not that have been announced.
Young, however, remains circumspect. He recently told Rolling Stone magazine that, "At this point, I don't know. We were committed to finishing the tour. Who knows what I'll feel after? When you sign on and say, 'I'm gonna do this and that,' it's always good to say at the end of it, 'I've done all I said I would do.'"
AC/DC and Tyler Bryant & the Shakedown
7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 9.
The Palace of Auburn Hills, Lapeer Road at I-75.
Tickets are $75-$135.95. Tickets for the original March 20 date will be honored.
Call 248-377-0100 or visit palacenet.com.
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