It was terrible news for classic rock fans last March when AC/DC cancelled the last leg of the "Rock or Bust" World Tour because singer Brian Johnson was at risk for total hearing loss. At the time, the band announced it would make up the ten missed dates with a guest singer; we figured some shmoe from an AC/DC cover band would get the honor. No one dreamed the substitute could possibly be one of the most famous rock stars of all time: Axl Rose.
But that's exactly who sang "Back in Black" and "Highway to Hell" Tuesday night at at the BB&T Center. Axl's distinctive high screams stood in sharp contrast to Johnson's deep bellows, but the fact that Rose was singing only AC/DC songs backed by AC/DC made this concert something weird and unique and fascinating. Bands have replaced lead singers before. Brian Johnson of course was himself a replacement for Bon Scott when Scott passed away in 1980. But I'm hard pressed to think of an example of anyone as high profile as Axl Rose joining another band — even temporarily.
The volume at the BB&T was turned up as loud as you would expect at an AC/DC concert. The penis-shaped stage proved big enough for the night's two stars. Axl did his famous Sweet Child O' Mine dance moves though with a thicker body and thinner hair, while guitarist Angus Young, dressed in his trademark English schoolboy outfit, was an ageless guitar hero. Meanwhile the three other members stayed in the shadows. Most notable among them was long-time bassist Cliff Williams, who got his biggest spotlight with his deep backing vocals for "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap".
The night was filled with arena-rock Spinal Tap cliches. There were the fires coming out of the stage for the encore of "Highway to Hell" and the inflatable, half-naked female balloon stroking her massive leg during "Whole Lotta Rosie." What made the night unforgettable was the meeting of two hard rock titans in Axl Rose and AC/DC. This made the BB&T Center crowd, which was filled with grown-up versions of Beavis and Butthead, explode with cheers over the course of 2.5 hours.
It was like a transaction made in professional sports. Due to trades and free agency, sports fans are able to realistically imagine any two athletes playing together. Could this AC/DC-Axl Rose amalgamation hint at a day when bands trade players the way the Yankees, Dolphins and Celtics do?
Since Robert Plant continues to refuse to play with Led Zeppelin, could Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones call up Roger Daltrey to play "Stairway to Heaven" and "Ramble On" on a world tour? Could a scorned Robert Plant then join Metallica and put his distinct spin on "One" and "Enter Sandman"?
Many of our rock heroes have been performing their same hits to the same crowds for decades. This could be an opportunity to hear our favorite artists and our favorite songs in completely new perspectives. After hearing Axl Rose belt out "Thunderstruck", we can only hope.