When AC/DC lead singer Brian Johnson quit performing in 2016 while struggling with hearing loss, many feared the band’s long run might have come to an abrupt end. Thankfully, last night (Oct. 7) at Power Trip at Empire Polo Field in Indio, Ca., Johnson and his bandmates obliterated any doubts about their ongoing viability at their first show in more than seven years, reclaiming their rightful place as one of the greatest hard rock bands of all time.
AC/DC’s 24-song set shook the desert floor, with Johnson, 76, immediately testing his vocal powers on opener “If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It)” and sending the audience into rapture with “Back in Black.” Huge versions of “Thunderstruck” and “Have a Drink on Me” preceded “Hell Bells,” which was followed shortly afterwards by a crowd participation-enhanced “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.” Kudos to whoever thought of the $20 AC/DC devil horns flashlight sold at the merch stands last night, as its widespread usage in the audience effectively punctuated the dark moments between songs and added greatly to the overall revelry.
Unsurprisingly, when guitarist Angus Young struck the opening lick of “You Shook Me All Night Long,” the multi-generational crowd united to sing along, and Johnson smiled like a hero whose superpower had been returned to him. Flames shot above the band during “Highway to Hell,” while the 68-year-old Young undressed down to shorts and an open white shirt while strutting across the stage during “Whole Lotta Rosie.”
Beyond the hits, the group offered the live debuts of “Demon Fire” and “Shot in the Dark” from its 2020 album POWER UP, as well as Johnson’s first performances of “Riff Raff” since 1996 and “Dog Eat Dog” since 2009. AC/DC closed the main set with ”Let There Be Rock,” with Young soloing high in the air on a raised platform and then on top of a Marshall amplifier stack. The show wrapped with “T.N.T.” and “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You),” punctuated by cannon fire and a large fireworks display.
AC/DC wasn’t the only group turning back the proverbial clock, as opener Judas Priest also defied Father Time during its 18-song performance. As 72-year-old lead singer Rob Halford proclaimed, “Judas Priest has been heavy metal for 50 years.” Only Halford and bassist Ian Hill remain from the original lineup, but the songs on Saturday came fast and furious, with a delightfully harder edge than many of their original versions.
When Halford joined the band on stage as “The Hellion” transitioned into “Electric Eye,” he walked somewhat haltingly with a cane to the front of the drum set. He remained there for the first two minutes while delivering his trademark high-register vocals, but in a move reminiscent of Willy Wonka, he then burst forward unencumbered and proceeded to prowl the stage for nearly two hours.
Judas Priest put a deep focus on the hits, and any question about their suitability to fill in for original headliner Ozzy Osbourne was put quickly to rest and buried deep beneath the dust of the Empire Polo Field. The familiar introductory guitar wail of “Heading Out to the Highway” was met with a huge roar, and guitarist Ritchie Faulkner took the lead all night in providing stage theatrics and guitar wizardry, including his introduction to the grinding “Diamonds & Rust.”
Perhaps no song better demonstrated Priest’s “we’re going heavy tonight” approach than 1986’s “Turbo Lover,” which in its original form had more of a synth/hair metal flavor. It was delivered with a blistering pace, as drummer Scott Travis and bassist Hill drove the point home with a pounding rhythm. Elsewhere, the speed and intensity on “Firepower” was somewhat astonishing for a band formed in 1969.
Halford engaged the crowd in a call and response a la Queen’s Freddie Mercury at Live Aid before the band tore Fleetwood Mac’s “The Green Manalishi (with the Two Prong Crown) and “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’.” After closing the main set with “Painkiller,” Halford roared back onstage on a motorcycle for a four-song encore, beginning with “Hell Bent for Leather.”
In the first big onstage surprise of the festival, original guitarist and songwriter Glenn Tipton joined the band for the 1980 song “Metal Gods” from the classic British Steel album. It was just the second such appearance since 2018 by Tipton, who is battling Parkinson’s Disease, and provided another jolt of energy as the show wound down with “Breaking the Law” and “Living After Midnight.”
As an added treat, Priest revealed during the set that its next album, Invincible Shield, will be released on March 8, 2024. Power Trip concludes tonight with performances from Tool and Metallica.