It has been 12 short years since AC/DC stole the show at Molson Canadian Rocks for Toronto. Then they were the lead-in act for the Rolling Stones at the 2003 benefit event better known as SARSstock. Returning to the same venue for the first time since only served to show that time has truly done a number on the grizzled Australian rockers.
Those among the expected crowd of 40,000 who navigated through the haphazardly arranged park setup and actually found an available parking spot were treated to two hours of familiar hits blasted at loud volume, but hardly with the same tour-de-force vigor of previous Toronto stops. Instead, lead singer Brian Johnson sounded strained and the band, who are minus Malcolm Young (illness) and Phil Rudd (legal troubles) on the tour, appeared intoxicated as they stumbled and stuttered around the stage.
Despite the massive crowd on hand, there was a surprising lack of energy for the band to feed off. They tried to build some early momentum by going to the well with “Back in Black”, “Dirty Deeds” and “Thunderstruck” among the first few songs of the 20-song set, but were met with a surprisingly quiet response. Fan disenchantment with their travels, not to mention the agonizing lines for food, beer, merchandise and even bathrooms, clearly played a role.
Gone was the general care-free, laid-back, happy vibe from the SARS benefit. (Enough time has passed to see how unfair it was to boo Justin Timberlake through his set.) Instead, this was a calculating Live Nation show that profited off of the sentimentality of the 2003 show (AC/DC has been back in Toronto since, but hadn’t returned to Downsview.) While you could have expected Johnson to acknowledge the memory of that performance, that would have required a level of audience interaction that the band appeared unwilling to provide.
It wasn’t all bad, mind you. Angus Young brought the crowd to life with a guitar solo that was as frenzied as it was hotly anticipated on “Let There Be Rock”. That seemed to pick the whole band up, as they came together with a spirited encore of “Highway to Hell” and “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)”. By that point, though, the damage was done. Displeased fans had already begun streaming out of the venue to beat the inevitable grind of traffic, while others never made it into the park in the first place and had long since turned around after hearing much of the show through their car window.
Makes you wonder how they managed to handle things so much better 12 years prior.