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Friday, May 27, 2011

DVD Review: AC/DC - Let There Be Rock

Let There Be Rock
2011 Warner Home Video
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

We are living in a golden age of reissue packaging. While the current economic climate has prevented many record labels from dressing up their re-releases despite noble interests of heritage preservation and digging up new fan interest, the flipside is a grand-scale overhaul such as Warner Brothers' treasure trove reboot of AC/DC's 1980 concert film, Let There Be Rock.

One might ask what the delay has been in bringing Let There Be Rock to DVD and Blu Ray. Of all the AC/DC video packages in the past decade, only Plug Me In has truly served the longtimer fans (i.e. Bon Scott disciples such as this writer). Not to crack on Brian Johnson, who has helmed AC/DC for more than three decades, but seriously, Scott is the original mack of heavy metal and hard rock. It's been rather unjust his fans be denied a full glimpse at his prowess captured long ago by Eric Dionysius and Eric Mistler in Let There Be Rock, a truly electric parade of distortion and swagger. Now the wait is over and the homecoming bash for Let There Be Rock the film comes bundled in a tin collector's edition with extra party favors we all get to dally with to the hum of "Whole Lotta Rosie" and "Girls Got Rhythm."

Is there a bar band on the planet that has received more outrageous fortune than this one? When you break AC/DC down to its basic nexus, they are what Chuck Berry might've been if the genuine King of Rock 'n Roll succumbed to demonic possession. Historically AC/DC has been likened to devil's music. In fact, they're the poster children for Satan, not just because of the cheeky obviousness on the artwork of Highway to Hell. Hardly Satanists, AC/DC has understood long before anyone else that the devil is a cartoon figure. Why else would Angus Young come trucking out onstage wearing a ball cap with silly horns on his head? Why else would he stage his notorious "Bad Boy Boogie" strip tease that sheds his schoolboy alter ego and devolves into the penultimate dirty boy? AC/DC's outrageous fortune comes from mechanizing the meanest riffs on the planet and for having a rhythm section tighter than an accountant's asshole. It comes from having empathy for the working class, a mass sect of people divided between churchgoers and those who shirk their weekend obligations.

AC/DC says it's okay to rock to "Walk All Over You" on a Sunday morn instead of droning "Lift High the Cross" in church. If there's anything satanic about that ideology, then most of us are damned to Hell along with AC/DC. At least they understood the joke and have been riding the punchline for nearly 40 years.

Let There Be Rock is perhaps one of the first authentic concert movies as we know them today. Sure, you had the glorious Woodstock film long beforehand and both The Rolling Stones and The Who put out incredible music films. Let's not forget The Beatles' gleeful and bemusing A Hard Day's Night, Led Zeppelin's near-claustrophobic The Song Remains the Same and Pink Floyd's mindraping visualization of The Wall. Still, there's something about Let There Be Rock the film that forever changed how the medium would visualize big-league rock 'n roll. A success of its time only for those who attended Dionysius and Mistler's movie back in 1980, Let There Be Rock is precursor to MTV and the global fascination of chumming down with major rock gods.

As the first 5-10 minutes of Let There Be Rock is focused upon the erection of AC/DC's mammoth stage, the you-are-there backstage fascination posited would become a blueprint for many future metal and rock videos, even on the singles front. There's something aesthetically arresting about the presentation of the rock show which intrigues us and Let There Be Rock piques our interest in the most simplistic manner it possibly can. You suspect AC/DC are aloof and damn if they aren't at this point in their careers, this being their 1979 Highway to Hell tour, which fatefully marked Bon Scott's final one.

Like most rock stars in history, AC/DC pretends they're not affected by all of the big to-do with cameras up their schnozzes and a deep-throated narrator slipping them random questions--sometimes with deliberate attempts to undermine their credibility. The boys play into the scheme and make themselves look like dolts before they ever get onstage. By now, history has proven AC/DC to be smarter than the average roughneck and it's all painfully obvious looking at Let There Be Rock in 2011 that they've long capitalized greatly on their rock 'n roll swindle.

Even Bon Scott pretends to be oblivious to all of the fanfare, going to so far as to huff out dismissing jokes about his celebrity. He equates the "star" factor to his character as what swirls about him on a daily basis in his perpetual state of inebriation. If Scott makes an honest statement about himself, it's playing into the stereotype that eventually killed him. "Highway to Hell" was very much Scott's autobiography swelled into a three-minute jam and you can tell in this film that he knew he was a goner. Even the playful side footage of Scott and Cliff Williams goofing around in an airfield rings a silly air of boredom. Scott comes off a bi-plane ride and it's painfully obvious he'd rather get to his fifth than do a stupid tapdance for the cameras trying to force a rock icon into mugging it up like a Monkees comedy hour.

Bon Scott wasn't so much a pure singer as a man with the capability of scatting with style. Anxiety and nerve went behind his charismatic delivery. Scott sang in the hot seat as much as he was the epitome of frontman cool. In Let There Be Rock, he's naturally the show-stealer, even as Angus Young thrashes his head, duck-walks in tribute to Chuck Berry, thrusts a fist out every other second while twinkling his fingers on the frets. You know, the usual. Phil Rudd is nearly superhuman in his unwavering 4/4 hammer-downs. It's amazing his forearms didn't rival Popeye's with all the punishment Rudd subjected himself to. Meanwhile, Malcolm Young and Cliff Williams scoot back and forth from the rear of the stage where they hold the endeavor on lockdown, then strut forward to their mikes, gurgling like drunken alley cats behind Scott. That's always been their shtick; as God-awful a backing vocal section as Malcolm and Cliff are, it's also been a long-running gag.

With slits in his jeans and a shag coiffing over his mike, Bon Scott is the conduit as AC/DC rips through "Shot Down in Flames," "Sin City," "Bad Boy Boogie," "The Jack," "Girls Got Rhythm," "Whole Lotta Rosie" and "Let There Be Rock." Though AC/DC is dreadful coming out on "Live Wire," (no intentional rubes this time) they shake their dogs loose and bring everything together into a throbbing pictorial of bratty blues rockers who know how to blow the rafters apart, even arena-size. It has a dated feeling, but the raw power in AC/DC's performance here is undeniable.

Let There Be Rock comes loaded with featurettes bristling with commentary by Lemmy Kilmister, Matt Sorum, The Donnas, Scott Ian, Rick Allen, Billy Corgan, Pauley Perrette and journalists Eddie Trunk, Susan Masino, Anthony Bozza and Lonn Friend. A lot of the featurettes are anatomical breakdowns from a musician's standpoint along with near-anthropological dissemination of AC/DC's legacy. Of course, Lemmy gets the quote of the whole package with "Loud is better. Trust me kids, it's true. You won't be sorry."

For the true AC/DC geek, this tin-cased edition of Let There Be Rock also comes with a guitar pick, booklet featuring a hefty chunk of Anthony Bozza's book Why AC/DC Matters and ultra-schway collector cards featuring color and black and white film stills. There's a particularly badass shot of Bon Scott trapped in both a stupor and a glaze of euphoria as he yanks the cord of his mike like silly putty. It's absolutely endearing. Don't be surprised if an enterprising buck strikes a deal to streamline this image into a mass-produced post card for art houses and rock museums.

To say the new edition of Let There Be Rock is spectacular is sufficient enough praise. The bigger statement would be: it's about goddamn time.

Rating: ****1/2

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