Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


AC/DC: The Peter Pans of filthy rock

You’re damn right they’re dirty old men. You didn’t really believe they’d have the decency to retire, did you?

An opinionated take on the week in live music, Nov. 21-27

Gig of the Week

(Xcel Energy Center, Sunday, Nov. 23, 7:30 p.m., $91.50)

You’re damn right they’re dirty old men. You didn’t really believe they’d have the decency to retire, did you? I’m talking about Aussie hard rockers AC/DC, of course, particularly founding member Angus Young, now 53, who almost certainly will take the Xcel stage clad in short schoolboy pants, and may or may not extend his tradition of mooning the audience. He’ll also turn his trusty Gibson guitar up to 11 and bash out riffs that counterpunch the caterwaul of vocalist Brian Johnson, who will be busy method-acting and pig-squealing the notion that his gonads are in a tightening vice. And the packed arena will erupt in a catharsis that is primal, tribal, and not the least bit edifying.

At $91.50, it’s a not-so-cheap thrill. But as someone who has seen more than one of their live performances (the tours where they’ve had the giant bell, and then the giant cannon, as eventually deafening props), I can attest to the fact that their elemental template gets to the essence of rock and roll. Without AC/DC, it is difficult to imagine Van Halen, or Guns ‘n’ Roses, or a few dozen lesser rock bands. I’ve had no less of an authority than ex-Creedence front man John Fogarty tell me that the guitar line on AC/DC’s “Back in Black” is one of the great riffs of all time. And their other monster hit, “You Shook Me All Night Long,” contains the immortal double entendre, “She told me to come but I was already there,” which ranks right up there with Robert Palmer’s “She’s so fine, there’s no telling where the money went,” in the rock lyric hall of fame.

AC/DC performing “Back in Black” at Donnington in October 2007.

It’s fruitless to deny that AC/DC is a puerile boys club grooving on songs that objectify women. Any intellectual arguments about the merits of the band don’t stand a chance — at least not without their music playing loudly in the background. But I do feel compelled to point out that the bulk of pop-music culture expertly manipulates, rather than crudely hammers, those hormonal hot buttons, jump-cutting edits of exposed thigh, arched eyebrow, and pursed lips while the lyrics tease and the dance moves simulate sexual combat. I’m not sure one is any more injurious than the other. And now that that’s settled, you’ll excuse me while I go watch a 53-year-old man pull down his schoolboy pants.

The master of ivory

Ahmad Jamal
(Dakota Jazz Club + Restaurant, Monday through Wednesday, Nov. 24-26, $40 at 7 p.m. and $25 at 9:30 p.m.)

Thanksgiving week is typically barren of nationally touring acts, so it’s a real blessing to have Jamal — one of the most accessible and yet creatively influential pianists in jazz history — hold down three midweek nights at the Dakota. Pamela Espeland has more on the patriarch elsewhere on the site today, so I’ll merely add that the 78-year-old Jamal is not resting on his laurels (like the 50th anniversary of his 1958 hit “Poinciana,” which stayed on the charts for 108 weeks), but actually getting better — his 2005 disc, “In Search of Momentum,” is one of my top five jazz records of the 21st century.

The Ahmad Jamal Trio at the Amsterdam Bimhuis in September 2006.

Brass piffle

Chris Botti with the Minnesota Orchestra
(Orchestra Hall, Saturday Nov. 22 at 8 p.m. and Sunday Nov. 23 at 2 p.m., $22-$53)

Trumpeter Botti appropriately has scheduled a 2 p.m. engagement on Sunday, because he both looks and performs like a matinee idol — impeccably skin-deep. Having already milked the smooth jazz market, he’s sidled into orchestral collaborations like this program of Leonard Bernstein, Cole Porter and Richard Rodgers with the Minnesota Orchestra. His tone is luscious, his chops top-notch. And the musical glaze on these masterful compositions should be immaculate.

A quarter century in the Red House

Our Side of Town: Red House Records 25th Anniversary Grand Finale
(Cedar Cultural Center, Saturday, Nov. 22, 8 p.m., $20 but sold out)

All year long, Red House has been celebrating their 25th year in business with concerts studded with stars from the label’s roster. The Cedar gig concludes this joyous string of live events, a nice complement to the marvelous melancholy that pervaded the label’s tribute to fallen founder Bob Feldman by many of these same artists in a concert last September. The ever-improving Eliza Gilkyson and the burr-voiced, emotionally acute songwriter Cliff Eberhardt  are individual headliners in their own right, which is one reason you’ll have to scalp or otherwise connive to crash this sold-out show. The other reason is the enormous good will the Red House label, from Feldman on down, accrued over the past quarter century. Congratulations to the “little label that could,” and did.