As I write this, it’s been thirty years to the day since Bon Scott died. If people ask me, I’ll always tell them the Bon Scott era is my preferred era of AC/DC. The material feels a little looser and the rock ‘n’ roll ethic hasn’t yet given way to the band’s slightly more metallic tendencies explored throughout Brian Johnson’s tenure fronting the band. I like all the AC/DC albums on their own merits and Brian’s first outing with the band - ‘Back In Black’ - is arguably one of their finest, but generally, it’s those early ones with Bon which have kept me coming back for more.
The studio albums are great, but it’s on the live albums where the early AC/DC really hit home. It’s often said that ‘If You Want Blood’ is one of the great live albums of the 70s - that’s something I’m not going to argue with and the 2CD soundtrack to the ‘Let There Be Rock: Live In Paris’ film has some cracking performances. However, it’s ‘Live From The Atlantic Studios’ which captures the band on best form. The intimate setting really gives the performance spark.
Bon’s voice is strong throughout the 40-odd minutes; he’s in good spirit, chatting with the small audience between numbers. ‘Live Wire’,‘Problem Child’ and ‘High Voltage’ set the stage and Bon sounds really focused; Phil Rudd and Cliff Williams are as strong as ever as a rhythm section. What really works here, though, is the volume of the guitars; ‘Live At The Atlantic Studios’ has a feeling throughout of a studio run-through and as a result, the eight numbers don’t offer much difference to the band’s recordings in terms of performance, but that bit of extra volume means these tracks stomp over their studio equivalents. Solid renditions of ‘Dog Eat Dog’ and ‘Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be’ have similar feel, but it’s during the second half of the set that AC/DC relax a little and the fun really begins.
An extended version of the bluesy rocker ‘The Jack’ appears here in its best live version, largely due to having retained the original album lyrics - much preferred over the sexually themed ones, full of schoolboy humour (pun intended) used on ‘If You Want Blood’ and other live performances. It has a looser feel than the recorded version, partly due to its extended arrangement; the band really fall into their solid blues groove, with Angus turning in a fine solo. The band close their set with the double rock ‘n’ roll whammy of ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ and ‘Rocker’. During ‘Rocker’ especially, you can feel the sweaty atmosphere, as Angus and co tear it up. It would have been fantastic to have been there, I’m sure. It’s such a great shame this wasn’t filmed.
For those of you who have the studio albums and have loved them for many years, there’s little else I can say here, as you know exactly what you’re in for. So, I’ll just say this: AC/DC at their most powerful, in front of a tiny audience? If you want a snapshot of a hugely influential band at their most vital, ‘Live From The Atlantic Studios’ gives you what you need.
Bon Scott (09.07.46 - 19.02.80)
*'Live At The Atlantic Studios' is available as part of the AC/DC 'Bonfire' 5CD box set.