- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2008

The heavy-metal band AC/DC has quietly sold more than 26 million albums over the past three decades, making it the second-most-popular band in the world.

Its current album, “Black Ice,” is its first in eight years, and the time off didn’t hurt.

The album reached the top of the charts in 29 countries, including the United States, immediately following its Oct. 20 release.

Saturday night, the band brought its traveling roadshow to a sold-out Verizon Center for a high-octane performance that was long on wailing guitar riffs but short on spontaneity or surprises.

AC/DC embodies old-school heavy metal. It has never been as poppy as, say, Def Leppard, and its pounding beats have never much changed. This is the rare metal band that has never recorded a power ballad.

With a career that began when Richard Nixon was still president, the band has no shortage of material upon which to draw. On Saturday night, it performed 18 songs, many of which had overlapping themes. The words “hell” and “rock” were in three of the song titles, while both “Jack” and “black” were in two others. Other songs the band performed bore titles like “Thunderstruck,” “TNT” and “Shoot to Thrill.”

Five songs from the current album made the cut (at least three too many). This gave the crowd - heavy on fans 40 and older and many attending with their children - an opportunity to catch its breath.

Lead guitarist Angus Young (who bears a passing resemblance to Rep. Edward Markey, Massachusetts Democrat) has lost none of his panache, though at 53, he is clearly slowing down. His signature duckwalks covered less ground than in the past, and his jumps in the air barely would have cleared a Northern Virginia phone book. His striptease during “The Jack” culminated in a flash of his … AC/DC boxer shorts.

Lead singer Brian Johnson, 61, has maintained his distinctive voice, which still sounds as if it could cut glass. With Mr. Young alongside him, AC/DC feels like a two-person band. The backup guitarist (Mr. Young’s brother Malcolm), the bassist and the drummer were little more than set pieces. They were never acknowledged by Mr. Johnson, and they rarely appeared on the video screens. Maybe for good reason: All three looked emaciated, out of gas, and past their expiration dates.

The show, for all its energy, had all the spontaneity of a May Day parade in the former Soviet Union. And while a racy cartoon video montage opened the show, complete with sexual innuendo and feverish imagery of a train set to crash, that mischievous theme was largely absent for the rest of the show.

Having signed an exclusive agreement with Wal-Mart to sell its current album, AC/DC is pushing into the fringes of the dreaded arena rock genre. Hard-core fans can still delight in anthem classics such as “For Those About to Rock,” but they may want to look elsewhere to feel the hard edge of yesteryear. One promising alternative is an all-girl AC/DC tribute band with an oh-so clever moniker: AC/DShe.

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