Axl Rose Wins Over Lisbon Crowd in First Show Fronting AC/DC: Watch
Smothered under a pillow of darkened skies fueled by distinctly atrocious weather, the Atlantic furiously pounded the seawall all day long (May 7) not 50 meters from the stage at Passeio Marítimo de Algés in Lisbon, Portugal. It wasn't hard to wonder: Were these seas rocking and rolling in preview of the first AC/DC show with Axl Rose on lead vocal loan from Guns N' Roses? Or were these the raging seas of an upset musical universe, its Gods unwilling to accept a Brian Johnson imposter at the helm of one of the world's most unabashedly rock rock bands of all time?
It didn't take long to find out.
By the time AC/DC launched into "Rock or Bust" amid a fury of flames and Angus Young's vintage, well-oiled guitar crunch, the heavens closed up. The weather turned. It was 9:06 p.m.
Rose, kicking back in a toned down version of Dave Grohl's Game of Thrones-inspired, purpose-built rock and roll cathedra (compared to what was used for GN'R's recent shows) took a song or two to settle in before his furious five octave range found its place in these hallowed tunes (that's surely down to such an inconvenient set time, one for which Rose surely must have needed a wake-up call to make).
"Turned into a sunny day," Rose soon mused. "Nice to meet you." Four songs in came "Back in Black" and it was as clear as the sky: Rose fit right in -- and nobody in Lisbon minded even for a moment that what they were witnessing was considered an atrocity to die-hard fans of the band.
“Shoot to Thrill”
“Highway to Hell”
It was all in stark contrast to the sentiments being thrown about the internet and beyond when it was announced in April that that Rose would be taking over vocal duties from longtime singer Brian Johnson, who was implored by doctors in early March to stop touring or risk total hearing loss.
Rumors ran rampant: Did Johnson quit? Was he fired? Axl Rose? Seriously, mate? With rock's worst kept secret dominating headlines, AC/DC guitarist Angus Young -- who remains the iconic Australian rock band's last man standing from the original lineup he formed with his brother in Sydney in 1973 – stepped on stage with GN'R to perform "Whole Lotta Rosie" and "Riff Raff" at Coachella in mid-April. With that -- along with a cleverly timed press release -- Axl/DC was born.
“Shook Me All Night Long”
And, really, who thought losing their singer to potential deafness would stop them?
AC/DC has soldiered on through the death of original singer Bon Scott in 1980, a serial killing scandal (the Night Stalker incidents in the 1980s), rampant alcoholism and dementia (Malcolm Young), a horrifying fan crush incident that left three dead (Salt Lake City in 1991) and two departures of drummer Phil Rudd (most recently for very serious threatening to kill and drug charges). Those are just the highlights, mind you!
A little permanent hearing loss was not going to stop this rock and roll train.
Enter Rose, in the midst of an almost GN'R reunion tour himself, who is stepping in on the 12 remaining European dates -- along with 10 further US make-up dates -- of AC/DC's 2016 Rock or Bust World Tour (now billed Rock or Bust World Tour featuring Axl Rose). Meanwhile, Johnson, who gave his blood, sweat, tears and ears to AC/DC for 36 years, may never be back depending on who you believe.
“Back in Black”
"Rock 'N' Roll Damnation," not played live since 2003, was the first curveball in the set and Rose took the opportunity to tell a story told to him by Young about how the record label was annoyed back in the day that the band weren't playing the tune live – and let them know by flying a plane overhead at a show with a little aerial advertising in tow: "Play 'Rock 'N' Roll Damnation,'" the banner read.
Of course, hearing Rose tell stories about AC/DC songs feels very instinctively and very powerfully wrong, but being out of his element seemed good for the famously egotistic singer. His between song banter came off as sweet (dare we say humble even). During "Given the Dog a Bone", there was a brief collective chant of "Axl! Axl!" from the crowd, to which Rose responded afterward, "I know what you meant. You meant, 'Angus!' Angus!" After "Have a Drink on Me," Rose quipped, "I could use a drink. You are a very intimidating bunch." He introduced "Shot Down in Flames" as, "A song they wrote about my life story" (you said it, Axl, not us).
But as the classics were rattled off -- "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap," "Thunderstruck," "High Voltage," "Hells Bells," "You Shook Me All Night Long" -- all that mattered was that the rock was not compromised to untrained ears. It didn't always work -- Rose was a bit lost in the mix in "High Voltage," he didn't sound fantastic on "Given the Dog a Bone" (despite those chants!) -- but when it mattered most, he nailed it. During "You Shook Me All Night Long," Rose was even comfortable enough to manage a bit of improve, replacing the notorious "American thighs" line with "Portuguese thighs."
“Rock or Bust”
“For Those About to Rock”
As Rose hobbled off stage for Young's trademark guitar solo during the main set ending "Let There Be Rock" and back on again for the encore, it appeared as if he might pull off a song or two unhinged to his throne. No such luck, but Rose couldn't sit still at any rate. The band followed "Highway to Hell" with "Riff Raff" (its first live appearance by AC/DC in 20 years) and Rose could barely contain himself, perfecting a wheelchair weeble wobble as he unloaded on the fierce showstopper, a drum kit-matching gothic lightning bolt visible on the bottom of his convulsing cast.
It was apparent Rose was ready to celebrate. It's one thing to be one of the most iconic rock singers in musical history while singing your own beloved band's songs, another thing entirely to try and pull it off while singing those of another iconic rock band. It would be daft to go as far as to say lighting has struck twice for Rose, but there was a raging rock and roll storm nonetheless, and Rose could have damn near kissed himself for pulling it off.
By the time "For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)" brought this much-ballyhooed experiment to a close, Rose come to realize what the Lisboêtas in attendance at this inaugural performance already knew: Axl/DC kinda rocks. AC/DC fundamentalists may never accept Rose as their trusted leader, even for a few shows. "It sounds strange," they'll say. "It sounds like Guns N' Roses covering AC/DC," they'll say. In the end, it's a whole lot better than a refund.
Here’s the set list from the show:
"Rock or Bust"
"Shoot to Thrill"
"Hell Ain't a Bad Place to Be"
"Back in Black"
"Got Some Rock & Roll Thunder"
"Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap"
"Rock 'N' Roll Damnation"
"Rock 'N' Roll Train"
"Given the Dog a Bone"
"You Shook Me All Night Long"
"Shot Down in Flames"
"Have a Drink on Me"
"Whole Lotta Rosie"
"Let There Be Rock"
"Highway to Hell"
"For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)"
Additional reporting by Ashley Iasimone