AC/DC’s Live at River Plate offers too much of the same and not enough new
But damn is it loud and fun!
The biggest knock against Australian rockers AC/DC is the band’s songs all sound the same. As a die-hard AC/DC fan, I say they damn well better! I’d lose what little faith I have left in mankind if I ever heard a synthesizer on any of AC/DC’s studio albums.
However, the problem with AC/DC’s live albums isn’t that the songs all sound the same — it’s that too many of them are the same.
Unfortunately that’s the case with AC/DC’s Live at River Plate, a new 19-song album chronicling three sold-out concerts in Buenos Aires attended by more than 200,000 insanely jubilant South Americans in 2009.
I’ll buy anything AC/DC puts out. I knew I’d grab River Plate when I learned of its November 19 release. But I immediately felt let down upon seeing the set list.
It’s been 20 years since AC/DC released Live, which chronicled the band’s 1990/91 The Razors Edge world tour. So what are we getting that’s new with River Plate? Not terribly much when it comes to fresh offerings.
Just like 1992’s Live, AC/DC’s River Plate features Thunderstruck, Shoot to Thrill, Back in Black, The Jack, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, Hells Bells, You Shook Me All Night Long, Whole Lotta Rosie, Let There Be Rock, Highway to Hell, T.N.T., and For Those About to Rock (We Salute You). That’s 12 out of 19 songs, many of which can also be heard on the two live AC/DC albums featuring the late Bon Scott on vocals.
We get newer songs like Rock ’n’ Roll Train, Big Jack, Black Ice, and War Machine, as well as the Bon Scott-era Shot Down in Flames and Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be (both previously released on live albums featuring Bon), and Dog Eat Dog.
And that’s it.
Don’t get me wrong, River Plate sounds great. It is the first live album featuring Phil Rudd on drums since his return to the band in 1994. Chris Slade had the drummer’s stool on 1992’s Live, and while Slade’s an accomplished musician, his drum booms and cymbal crashes sound weaker and too quick. There’s rawness to Rudd’s hi-hat beats; he admittedly likes to whomp the toms, and he kicks a heavy bass drum. His slightly slower timing simply makes for better AC/DC.
In addition to Rudd’s workman-like pounding, the boys stick with what works: brothers Angus and Malcolm Young perfectly layer their solo and rhythm guitar crunches, bassist Cliff Williams lays back in the pocket where he belongs, and Brian Johnson scratchily (and indecipherably) shrieks about sex, cars and booze.
Also, those 200,000 crazy and loud Argentinians make the album fun. Their boisterous singing almost overtakes Malcolm’s and Cliff’s miked backing
vocals. I found myself grooving to River Plate with the sound blasting in my Ford Escape.
There’s no substitute for attending an AC/DC concert, but the band’s tight sound on River Plate — accompanied by a kick-ass crowd — helps get closer to filling that void (if your speakers can handle it).
While River Plate is undoubtedly an enjoyable listen, I can’t help but feel River Plate is also a case of “what could have been.” Rather than highlighting the same exact set list that spanned three concerts in Argentina, AC/DC would’ve better served their fans by adding a few songs from the wider Black Ice tour that didn’t wind up on River Plate.
Anything Goes, one of the better songs from the Black Ice album, was played live but not in Argentina. AC/DC played High Voltage — made famous by Bon Scott’s howls, and released on previous live albums — in Australia and New Zealand as a tribute to their late frontman, and the fans loved it. It didn’t make it to River Plate.
Simply adding those two songs as bonus tracks on River Plate would’ve made for a more complete album. (I honestly don’t think AC/DC played any other songs than the ones on River Plate, and the two that didn’t make it to the live album.)
Even better, the band could’ve reached back to the mid 1990s Ballbreaker tour and pulled Girls Got Rhythm and Down Payment Blues, among many others not widely available on live releases.
River Plate could have and would have been a superior offering to any live AC/DC album had the Buenos Aires concerts been chronicled as they were, and a bonus disc packed with the aforementioned songs and other tunes — Stiff Upper Lip, Up to My Neck in You, Problem Child, What Do You Do for Money Honey, Gone Shootin’, Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation, Ride On, and others, played during the 2000/01 Stiff Upper Lip world tour and concerts from 2003 when AC/DC was inducted into the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame.
Certainly those songs can still be released down the road. Some of them surely will. Diehard fans already have Live at River Plate and are enjoying it as much as I am — my misgivings aside. Those on the fence might pass because of the repetitive nature of AC/DC’s live recordings. Honestly, I wouldn’t blame them.
If I had to grade River Plate, I’d give it a B-minus, but a damned good B-minus. It’s nice to have Phil Rudd back and fully represented on a live AC/DC album with the lineup that produced the monumental bestseller Back in Black. River Plate’s audience adds an element not present on any previous live AC/DC release.
But I just can’t get past the simple fact that we’ve heard much of this before, and before that, and before that. Please mix it up a bit in the future, guys.