Almost everything you need to know about AC/DC can be found in Bon Scott’s grin.
He always had the look of a mischievous schoolboy that knew he was getting away with something. Angus Young may dress like a schoolboy, but Scott was the troublemaker, the “Problem Child” if you will, at the heart of AC/DC.
The first time we see him on the remastered version of the band’s 1979 concert film “Let There Be Rock,” Scott is flashing that grin during a photo shoot. It’s clear he’s up to something, at least in his own mind. Behind that grin is the guy who could write the cheeky lyrics to songs like “Big Balls,” “The Jack” and “Squealer.” He took pride in being naughty.
There was a heart with Scott though, and in an interview in this film you can see how proud he is of AC/DC and what he’s accomplished with them. But you can also see that Scott had a certain doomed quality, as if even he knew he wasn’t going to last forever. At one point, Scott eerily calls himself “a special drunkard. I drink too much.” He says it off-handedly, as a joke, but something in his eyes tells you he knows it’s not a joke.
“Let There Be Rock” captures AC/DC on their last tour before Scott’s death, when the booze finally got the best of him. Whereas his successor Brian Johnson is a working-class frontman, more Ozzy Osbourne than Roger Daltrey, Scott is a full on Rock God by this point. Where Jim Morrison wore leather so well you thought he was born in it, Scott rocked the denim demon look long before Turbonegro did. Throw in the teased hair, tattoos (which were not common at the time) and the cocky way Scott carries himself here and you have a guy that’s a star and knows it.
One thing I was struck by, having seen AC/DC on their 2008 “Black Ice” tour, was how little the band has really changed in 30 years. The only difference is who is singing.
Angus still has his schoolboy outfit and Chuck Berry-inspired duckwalk, the only difference being a little more hair. There’s still Angus’ strip tease spot midway through the set, done in this film, appropriately enough, during “Bad Boy Boogie.”
The rhythm section of Malcolm Young, Phil Rudd and Cliff Williams are still content to stay in the background, providing the thunder behind Angus’ and Scott (and later Johnson’s) stage antics. These three guys have always been the anchor to AC/DC. Or as Double Down Trent would say, “The guy behind the guy behind the guy.”
On “Let There Be Rock,” just like when I saw them in 2008, the band is tight and blazes through the setlist like a well-rehearsed machine. The bulk of the tracks the band plays here come from the international version of “High Voltage,” “Highway To Hell” and the album “Let There Be Rock.” The “Highway To Hell” album had just come out when this film was shot but the band cranks through the new tracks like “Walk All Over You,” “Girls Got Rhythm” and the title track like they’ve been playing them for years.
The film also includes vignettes with different band members, a la Led Zeppelin’s “The Song Remains The Same,” including one where Scott, with that goofy grin on his face, dances on an icy lake. These vignettes are really unnecessary, an example of cheesy 70s excess. Between Scott’s peacock-like strutting around the stage and Angus’ manic energy, the band has enough visual effects without throwing in clips of biplanes and cars racing.
There are also interviews with the band, Scott doing his with a drink in his hand and Angus sheepishly admitting that he’s “the ugly little man up there.”
Of course, Angus has always been the consistent face of AC/DC and I’ve always been struck by how he can play the right notes on his guitar with all the thrashing around he does. Angus spends the bulk of the show wrestling with his guitar like fellow Aussie Steve Irwin wrestled crocodiles.
Other notable aspects of the film:
- Scott singing the alternate lyrics to “The Jack.” The original lyrics were full of witty wordplay that managed to tie together poker and STDs. The alternate lyrics are more explicit, not quite as clever, and have always been used during Brian Johnson-era performances, so I was surprised to see them here.
- It’s different to see AC/DC without any bells and whistle on stage. No cannons, no giant inflatable women, fire-shooting statues or giant train backdrops here. It’s a very stripped down performance, which really suits AC/DC well.
- A vignette with Malcolm Young playing soccer with a beer bottle in his hand, which is simultaneously funny and sad, considering alcohol killed Scott and nearly wrecked Malcolm’s career in the late 80s.
- Very little is seen of the audience here, which is also a good style choice. With showmen like Angus and Scott on stage, there’s no need to take the camera off them. At one point during “Rocker,” Angus gets on a stagehand’s shoulders and piggybacks his way through the crowd.
- Fittingly, the movie ends with the title card “For Bon.”
“Let There Be Rock” is a fun concert film that serves as the last will and testament for Bon Scott (he died two months after it was shot). For those looking to see one of rock’s most memorable frontmen at the peak of his ability, this is the place. — Ryan Mavity