Judge Victor Valdivia is on the highway to hell, but with gas prices so high, he's taking the slow lane.
The landmark AC/DC concert film
AC/DC have released several concert DVDs over the years but for most fans this is the definitive recording. Let There Be Rock is where AC/DC earned their reputation as one of the most fearsome and powerful live acts of all time, delivering a string of some of their best songs in a ferocious live performance. Though lead singer Bon Scott died only weeks after the concert seen here, he shows no signs of slowing down. If anything, Let There Be Rock serves a fitting tribute to his enormous talent and charisma, not to mention a showcase for AC/DC's greatest music.
Let There Be Rock was filmed at Pavillion De Paris on December 9, 1979. Scott is joined by guitarists Angus and Malcolm Young, bassist Cliff Williams, and drummer Phil Rudd. Here is the setlist:
The film isn't entirely a concert. It's partly a documentary and while those parts are sometimes silly or contrived (especially when the interviewer asks some exceptionally smirky questions) the interviews to help flesh out the personalities of the band members. Scott is the most charming but the Young brothers' firm and thoughtful answers demonstrate clearly that AC/DC is their band. There are also some weird pseudo-fantasy sequences (such as a scene with the band members involving an old biplane and car) that don't really add anything visually, but you can ignore those to focus on the actual performance.
It's that performance that really matters. During the mid to late '70s, the six studio albums (and one live recording) the band recorded with Scott defined a hard rock style that would influence generations of musicians. It was a stripped-down, basic, blues-influenced sound that relied on heavy chords and fast rhythms but never came off as bombastic or long-winded. There are no ballads; only "The Jack," a cheerfully smutty blues song about venereal disease, is the closest to a slow song you'll hear from this band. On songs like "Sin City" and "Live Wire," Malcolm's rhythm guitar, Williams' bass, and Rudd's drums combine to make a brutish roar that's almost machine-like in its precision. Angus' lead guitar solos are impressive in their dexterity but even at their longest they never seem self-indulgent. It's Scott, though, who undercuts any possible moments of self-importance. His wry, raunchy humor makes him an instantly endearing frontman; at every opportunity, his sharpest barbs and harshest lyrics are aimed at ridiculing himself and his rock-star posturing. Sadly, Scott died after a heavy drinking binge only two months after this concert, so while it's a treat to get to catch one of his last performances, it's also bittersweet to see Scott in full flight and wonder what might have been. Judging by this performance, and especially by "Highway to Hell," the title cut of the album the band released that year, it's easy to see that Scott was just beginning to hit his stride with the band.
The fullscreen transfer looks as sharp and clean as it has ever looked, especially after years of fans having to watch this film in grimy VHS releases. That's not to say it looks like a DV concert film, since it was shot cheap and fast, but the colors are more vivid and the image sharper than some will remember it. The original stereo mix is included but for fans the real story is a brand new 5.1 surround mix. It has good separation and the balance is nicely done but you shouldn't expect a loud, window-rattling experience. It can sound a bit echoey in spots but is overall a pleasure to listen to. DVD Verdict was sent the bare-bones release for review, but there is also a "Deluxe Edition" with extras.
Whichever edition you get, Let There Be Rock is essential. Here is a collection of some of AC/DC's best songs captured in a stellar live performance, that looks and sounds as good as it ever has. AC/DC would enjoy even greater commercial success after this film with Scott's replacement, Brian Johnson, and their 1980 album Back In Black. Still, the band never really equaled the influence and power of their earlier work and while their subsequent records contained some good songs here and there, they're not nearly as vital as the music this DVD captures. Let There Be Rock remains indispensable for anyone interested in AC/DC's music.
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