Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi AC/DC "Bonfire"

By Michael Henningsen

FEBRUARY 9, 1998: 

Alibi Rating Scale:
!!!!!= Dirty
!!!!= Deeds
!!!= Done
!!= Dirt
!= Cheap

AC/DC Bonfire (Atlantic/EastWest)

Many things can be said of the late Bon Scott, but "fake" isn't one of them. Scott had been dead a good five years before a young, hair-blessed David Lee Roth took to parading around on stage swigging iced tea out of Jack Daniels' bottles--at least Scott died drinking the genuine article. This dichotomy between feigned and actual drinking is notable only because drinking is a subject that seems to permeate the whole of the extensive, if poorly written, booklet that accompanies AC/DC's new boxed set, Bonfire. Seems the great Scot was one of those individuals whose talent--more notable than most people think--could be unleashed only under the influence of any number and combination of drugs and alcohol. But when it happened for Bon Scott, Christ, was it a sight to behold, not to mention listen to.

"When we finally got (to AC/DC's first gig), Bon downed about two bottles of Bourbon with dope, coke, speed and says, 'Right, I'm ready.' And he was, too. He was fighting fit," writes guitarist Angus Young. "There was this immediate transformation, and he was running around ... yelling at the audience. It was a magic moment. He said it made him feel young again." It was magic moments like this, brought about by the most incredible display of rock 'n' roll excess since Keith Moon drove a Cadillac into a hotel swimming pool, that defined Bon Scott and, therefore, AC/DC. And it's a reputation that follows them even 18 years after his cookie-cutter rock-star demise.

Nine months after Scott's Feb. 19, 1980, head-on collision with his own vomit, AC/DC released Back in Black, their breakthrough--though not by most standards their best--record. It remains perhaps the quintessential hard-rock tribute album. It also marked a new era for the Australian quintet, introducing shredded throat vocalist Brian Johnson to fill shoes many people--including the other members of the band--thought could never be filled. And while Johnson is certainly no Bon Scott, the band, up through the release of Back in Black and For Those About to Rock ... remained as powerful and representative of the music many a mother warned against as ever.

Bonfire, its title taken from what Angus Young says was to be the name of the solo album Scott joked about, is, as one might expect, a boxed set designed especially for hardcore AC/DC fans, but one that offers little to the record buyer attempting to get hold of a chunk of the band's early catalog. Disc one, Live From Atlantic Studios, offers a unique refrain to the days when AC/DC's heavily blues-influenced rockers were performed with all the passion of a street fight. Gritty, rough around the edges and accentuated by Scott's rapier wit, this intimate disc is the set's highlight, featuring AC/DC standards like "Problem Child," "High Voltage," "The Jack" and "Whole Lotta Rosie" in far more unabashed, drunken, frenzied glory than versions available on various studio efforts.

Disc(s) two is actually 14 live tracks on two CDs, documenting the 1979 Paris concert that spawned the film Let There Be Rock. As live albums go, this one's pretty good. From a sonic standpoint, the songs here (six of them repeated from the previous disc) are far more in your face, but the sense of urgency present on disc one is slightly compromised in exchange for better production. Whether that's a good thing or not is a call you'll have to make yourself.

The third and final disc associated with Scott's primal howl, Volts, contains alternate and unfinished versions of songs that would later appear on Highway to Hell. In that sense, Volts is as close to a long-lost Scott-era AC/DC EP as you're ever going to get.

A remastered and repackaged version of Back in Black has been somewhat curiously added as the final disc of the set, perhaps as the record Bon Scott simply never got the chance to add his vocals to. On the whole, Bonfire is a grand testament to one of the greatest voices ever to intone working-class hard rock. But it has its annoying faults: Several tracks are repeated, and the booklet offers little historical information regarding the included recordings, leaving one to guess at session dates based on what songs appear in the set and their known release dates. Of course, Bon Scott probably wouldn't have been too concerned with such details, and the haunting magic his voice adds to this set more than makes up for them. !!!!

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