AC/DC's Drama-Filled Rock or Bust Tour: Axl Rose, Brian Johnson & More Key Moments
AC/DC’s reunion tour after a six-year hiatus has been one hell of a ride -- the Aussie band literally came back in black.
Their Rock or Bust Tour, launched in support of their 2014 album of the same name, was plagued by lineup issues. Guitarist Malcolm Young was forced to exit for dementia. Drummer Phil Rudd faced house arrest over charges for drug possession and allegedly threatening to kill a former employee. Then the big bang came: Following their Coachella 2015 kickoff, a European and South Pacific leg, plus two jaunts in North America, singer Brian Johnson was forced to exit the tour, and possibly the band itself, due to serious ear issues that could leave him deaf. Guns N’ Roses singer Axl Rose agreed to step in to help his idols reach the finish line.
Yes, it was messy. But for fans, the tour offered possibly the last chance to see some of the most iconic rock songs played live. Here, over three North American tour stretches, between April 2015 and the Axl Rose-led closer in Philadelphia this September, we revisit the moments fans will forever remember. Devil horns up!
Last Chance to See Brian Johnson
Sadly, the 68-year-old Johnson -- who joined the band in 1980 as their third singer, following the death of second frontman Bon Scott -- was forced to leave due to severe hearing issues. His last show was in Kansas City on Feb. 28, 2016, and though fans didn’t know it at the time, it was the end of an era. Days later, AC/DC issued a press release and postponed the remaining dates on the tour.
Coachella 2015 & 2016
AC/DC, with Johnson at the helm, rocked the hell out of Coachella 2015, delivering a searing, two-hour-long set of hits. A year later, events would change drastically. After Guns N’ Roses took the stage at Coachella 2016, the two bands confirmed the rumors: Angus Young appeared onstage with GNR to prove the new union by performing renditions of AC/DC's “Whole Lotta Rosie” and “Riff Raff” with Rose on vocals. It was the first taste of what AC/DC & Axl would sound like on their upcoming rescheduled tour dates. Speaking of health problems, Axl was confined at the time to Dave Grohl’s rock throne due to breaking his foot at GNR’s opening show in L.A. days earlier.
Axl Rose, Though
You gotta hand it to the guy. He was a notoriously late live performer in years past, but for GNR and AC/DC’s return, he was a trouper. During a break in GNR's Not In This Lifetime tour, he debuted with AC/DC in Europe for 13 dates. Then he returned for the States for his own band’s monster summer U.S. tour. After wrapping that Aug. 22 in San Diego, he was onstage with AC/DC only five days later in Greensboro, NC for the opening of the Aussie outfit’s 10-date U.S. tour. That’s stamina and dedication, and he sounded great.
Cliff Williams, Ladies and Gents
Near the end of AC/DC’s U.S. summer tour, Williams announced his retirement in an emotional video to fans: "It's time for me to step out," said the bassist, who joined in 1977 to replace founding four-stringer Mark Evans. “I couldn't have asked for anything more -- being with the people I'm with, and have been, being in this situation with this band, playing this music." And Williams went out in style: He basked in the limelight during the show's final tune, "For Those About to Rock (We Salute You),” strutting the cat walk. We salute you, Mr. Williams.
He’s the last man standing, literally. All the lineup changes, ending with Williams’ departure at the tour closer, have left the 61-year-old band co-founder to lead a group that’s been totally transformed. But over the Rock or Bust Tour, he played like a mad man, nailing solo after solo -- often in that same schoolboy suit and cap -- while running up and down the long stage platforms. You’re dynamite, Angus.
Oldies But Goodies
With Rose on the mic, AC/DC revisited tracks that the band hasn’t played live in years. The group dusted off T.N.T. track “Live Wire” for the first time since 1982 at the U.S. opener in Greensboro, NC, and sets would go on to include "Riff Raff," "Rock n' Roll Damnation," and “If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It).” In Europe, before the final U.S. tour leg, the band even played "Touch Too Much” for the first time since 1979.
Few hard rock tunes are as instantly recognizable as “Thunderstruck,” “Back in Black,” “Highway to Hell,” “You Shook Me All Night Long,” and “T.N.T.,” and the band delivered ‘em with gusto, no matter the lineup, across the globe for 88 shows. In total, more than 2.3 million fans lapped it up as Angus and his younger cousin, Stevie Young -- filling in for Malcolm Young -- revved up the crowds from city to city. It’s about to expllloooooddddddeeeeeeeee!!!!!
Oh, The Drama
Before the tour even began, the soap opera had begun. Rudd, who played on the Rock or Bust LP, pleaded guilty to charges of possession of methamphetamine and cannabis and for threatening to kill a former employee. Then he lost a string of court appeals in New Zealand against the convictions, which ordered him to serve eight months house arrest and pay hefty fees. Then, this summer, he suffered a heart attack and underwent an emergency procedure. Then, when rumors swirled about Rose joining the band following Johnson’s exit in March 2016, it seemed everyone had an opinion. While some, like shock rocker Alice Cooper, supported the union, The Who’s Roger Daltrey called the new lineup a “karaoke” group. “AC/DC will miss Brian much more than Brian will miss AC/DC,” he told the London Free Press. “There you go.”
Chicago’s Wrigley Field
AC/DC filmed their stop at Chicago’s iconic baseball stadium, complete with helicopters flying overhead, for an upcoming DVD release. But it seems the Cubs’ management wasn’t so happy, claiming in an official complaint that the field was left damaged and full of divots in the infield, which apparently led to a series of errors during subsequent ball games. Excuses, excuses, excuses. Question: AC/DC fans vs. Cubs fans in a cage fight -- who wins?
That Wall of Speakers and Cannons
No wonder Johnson nearly went deaf: There’s a two-story stack of Marshall amps blaring behind him nearly every night for months on end. Oh, and in case that wasn’t loud enough: cannons! Our ears ring just thinking about it.