40 years ago today, on February 2, 1982, I went to my first concert. You’re probably reading this on the 3rd or later so just roll with it.
Well…technically… One of my earliest memories was going to a outdoor music event at Fritz Park in Irving, Texas. This is a mystery that I’ve yet to solve. My mom has no memory of it. How do I have this memory? Well, Fritz Park was a place I went to a lot growing up and that area of south Irving still invades my dreams to this day. There was plenty of space there, with a huge open field that ran downhill to a wooded area along Delaware Creek. At the top of the hill was a sports complex with a couple of baseball diamonds, where I played baseball during my very brief little league career, and saw my stepdad and many of my parents’ friends play softball. During my early childhood, my grandmother would take me to Fritz Park often, visiting the petting zoo located in the south area of the park, and my uncle, who is only six years older than me, would take me walking through the creek. There were some sections of the creek that with dry sandbars, as well as various pools of water we could wade through and play (I think my mom has pictures of me as a baby playing in the water). I remember the thrill of trying to catch tadpoles in the creek. My mom and stepdad would get together when I was 7, and his grandparents lived on the northeast side of the park, so my adventures there continued throughout my youth, including into my teens as I would go to high school just a few blocks away, and I would be involved another music event there as well. In the mid-‘80s, I helped put together a show featuring a couple of high school Metal cover bands. We built a stage in the exact same spot near the tree line and had a crowd of a few hundred people spread out across the downhill slope. It was our own mini-Woodstock. Until the cops shut it down. Oh, and I won a frisbee golf tournament there once…
So, my theory is that a babysitter had taken me there. My mom says she didn’t even attend a concert herself until a few years later (She saw Faces open for Three Dog Night!), and she can’t recall who besides family members ever babysat me back then. My memory of this is obliviously blurry, but I can remember seeing long-haired hippie types everywhere and guys playing guitars on a stage. Several years ago I tried to find any info online and there was only one mention of a outdoor concert held at Fritz Park during my early childhood. A guitarist named Christopher McGuire posted a blog about his band Sunshine performing at the park in May of ‘69 (I saw one other post about a Memorial Day concert which would have been the weekend before), and a teenage Stevie Ray Vaughan jammed with them at that show. McGuire even has a receipt for payment to SRV dated May 31, 1969. I would have been 2 1/2 years old and that could explain why the memory is fuzzy. So, my first concert could have been seeing SRV when he was only 14. Stranger things…
However, I wouldn’t consider my first concert one that I only have a fleeting memory of it. I’m sure plenty of young kids get taken to concerts by their parents, not having any clue what they’re entering into, but will call that their first concert, and why shouldn’t they? I knew a girl once who told me her first concert was when her parents took her to see The Ramones, something she certainly wears as badge of honor today. Her sister has even bigger bragging rights: she was born at the same show. But for me, my first concert, excluding some hippies in a park when I was barely conscious, or some of my parents’ friends jamming at our house, has to be one that I desperately wanted to go to, and that I was a huge fan of the band and knew every single song and every band member. I was lucky that my first concert was exactly that. It was in fact my favorite band in the world and I was beyond thrilled to see The Rolling Stones…um…wait, that’s incorrect.
As I entered my freshmen year of high school, and being a freak about music, I NEEDED TO GO TO A CONCERT. I needed that street cred badly. Looking back it’s easy to say I didn’t really care about such things, but there was nothing cooler than strutting into school after a big concert sporting the tour shirt of the band that just rocked your town. Just imagine me being the goofy freshman asking the cool upper classmates “How was it? What did they play?” Imagine the loser feeling when they said “It ruled. You should have been there.” Imagine when you learn that your all-time favorite band announced that their mega stadium tour was coming to your town, and get this, THEY’RE PLAYING ON YOUR BIRTHDAY!?!? I turned 15 on October 31, 1981. It was one of the saddest and most boring birthdays I ever had. Twenty miles from my house, at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, The Rolling Stones were playing the first of two shows, with ZZ Top and The Fabulous Thunderbirds opening. My parents didn’t think a concert at the Cotton Bowl was the safest for me to attend at my age. Some friends of theirs were going to the November 1st show, had a spare ticket and offered to take me, but my parents were still against it. I was so bummed out over this. I had been obsessed with the Stones (not to mention ZZ Top) since I was 7 years old, turned onto them by my mom’s then boyfriend Rocky, and my future stepdad and major musical influence on me. There could not have been a more perfect concert to be my first. However, if I’m being completely honest, the Stones were no longer my favorite band in 1981. I was still obsessed with them, but I hadn’t really given them much attention since Some Girls. My introduction to them, Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out was still my favorite, along with Let It Bleed and Sticky Fingers on either side, and I was still very much in love with all their early lessons in American Blues and Soul music. Tattoo You was dominating the radio, but I didn’t rush out and buy a copy of it or Emotional Rescue. In fact it would take me at least 25 years to own and fully appreciate those records. No, there was another band that was competing with the Stones for that “Greatest Rock ‘N’ Roll Band” title in my life, and ninety-three days after I missed the Stones playing on my rainy 15th birthday, I saw my favorite band for my very first concert.
I have this habit when I write, of apologizing to my friends for retelling the same stories over and over (“yes we know you love the Stones, Ya Ya’s blah blah!”), and here’s another greatest hit… On Christmas Day 1976, my stepdad Rocky (Charles) would be gifted by his brother Hoppy (Paul) a record that would change our musical lives forever. The album was High Voltage (US version) by a band we had never heard of called AC/DC. “They sound like a Australian Ted Nugent” was Hoppy’s not so quite accurate, but in the same loud guitar rock ‘n’ roll ballpark description. I had received a record from Santa that I desperately craved, Aerosmith’s brilliant Rocks, but after Rocky put High Voltage on, Aerosmith just couldn’t compare. Over the next few years, Rocky would pick up each new AC/DC record as it came out, leading up to our minds being blown by their breakthrough Highway To Hell. Then the news of Bon Scott’s death was devastating. I have never cried over the death of a famous person before or since. I was so sad that I never got to see them and was convinced that was the end of AC/DC. Of course it wasn’t and they went on to become the biggest hard rock band in history.
After the disappointment of not being able to see the Stones on my birthday, I set a new goal for my first concert. AC/DC’s For Those About To Rock (We Salute You) was released on November 20, 1981 (my sister’s birthday!). As was custom in those days, local Rock radio began playing a song, the title cut if I recall, weeks before the release, so somewhere between my birthday and the album’s release, I knew it wouldn’t be long before AC/DC would be coming to Dallas. I informed my parents that I WAS going. I was desperate and dammit, thy foot had been firmly put down. Good thing my mom wanted to go too (don’t know why Rocky didn’t, but he would eventually). Another common thing in those days was some the biggest acts would do multiple dates in major cities. On this tour AC/DC did multiple dates in Chicago, Detroit, Rochester-NY, Landover-Maryland, Atlanta, Lakeland-Florida, Houston, Denver, four nights in Seattle, and three in both San Francisco and Los Angeles, and yes, two in Dallas. We failed to get tickets for the first show on February 1 as it sold out quickly. Then they announced the second show and I felt relieved. And we missed out getting those tickets too. Oh…my… This couldn’t be. I was supposed to go see AC/DC. It was supposed to be my first concert. Then a miracle happened. Two miracles, actually. My parents’ friends, the married couple who had offered to take me to see the Stones had an extra ticket. Then another of their friends also had an extra. So it was decided that my mom would go to the first show with the couple and I would get to go to the second show with three grown men who were friends. Well, one was a friend of my parents that I knew, another was the brother of one of their other friends, and I don’t remember who the third guy was. These guys were all part of a group of people, mostly in their 20s and 30s, that hung out and partied together and were connected to a softball league, one which Rocky at one point played with too. My parents felt they could trust these 20-something party dudes with their teenage son for some reason, and they thought going to an arena show was safer than going to the Cotton Bowl. I didn’t give a shit because I WAS GOING TO SEE AC/MOTHERFUCKIN’/DC!!!!
It only made it crazier that February 2 was a Tuesday, so not only was I going to a concert, but it was a school night. After seeing several kids wearing t-shirts from the first show, I couldn’t wait to strut around in my shirt that following Wednesday. It was all playing out like something from a movie. I love the movie “Detroit Rock City” which is centered on KISS and set just a few years before this moment in my life, but it’s very close in capturing the feels I experienced. There wasn’t any of the ridiculous hijinks that happen in that film, but I did have some fun. As we headed down Interstate 35 towards downtown Dallas and came around the curve just past the tollway overpass, traffic came to a halt. Apparently half of Dallas was on their way to see AC/DC too and it seemed like it took a half hour to travel the mile and a half from the tollway to the Commerce Street exit (and 40 years later traffic in Dallas hasn’t changed much). Somewhere in that stretch, one of the individuals in the car fired up a joint. I had smoked marijuana before, but in a car sitting in traffic seemed daring and insane (and I laugh to think how many more times I did it after that). I can’t remember if it was one joint or two…in all the confusion…and yes I was feeling lucky, punk! By the time we parked and walked to Reunion Arena, I was certainly dazed, but not confused. I was Charlie with his golden ticket, but this was no chocolate factory. The was Rock ‘N’ Roll Shangri-La. I would see many more concerts at Reunion, including two more AC/DC shows, but I really can’t describe the excitement of entering that building for the first time. Before long I was inside and standing in line at one of the merch tables, looking for my coveted t-shirt. Most of the shirts had the image of the cannon from the cover of For Those About To Rock, and that was what I had seen a few kids at school wearing earlier that day. I had to be different and went for the baseball jersey with blue sleeves, the number 82 on the back and a cartoon depiction of Angus Young from the If You Want Blood album cover where he’s been impaled with his guitar. Fuckin’ A!
We had floor seats in the center section, which sounds awesome, but they were on the very last row behind the soundboard. We would stand on our seats for the entirety of AC/DC’s performance, so we could see all the action, although from quite a distance. When I saw them on the Fly On The Wall tour in ‘85, I was on the 5th row, the closest I ever got to AC/DC. I actually moved up to the second row when they came out for the encore as security left their stations and allowed the audience to fill the area between the first row and the stage. And yes, those cannons were even louder up close. I should point out that that ‘85 show was the first concert I ever went to by myself, however I ran into some friends and gave them a ride home. So back to ‘82: one unusual thing was the opening band was unknown to most. On the following tours I would see, AC/DC always had well known Metal acts like Saxon, Fastway, and Yngwie Malmsteen open, but on this tour it was the fairly pedestrian bar-band Blues-Rock of Midnight Flyer… Who? The band consisted of a few ‘70s looking dudes trying to look like hip ‘80s dudes, and some girl singer doing a Janis Joplin impersonation, at least that was my uninformed opinion. I don’t recall them being booed, but no one cared about them at all. It wasn’t until decades later that I learned the girl was noted British Blues-Rock singer Maggie Bell, and the bass player was Tony Stevens formerly of Savoy Brown and Foghat. They had released their debut album on Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song label, produced by Mott The Hoople/Bad Company guitarist Mick Ralphs, yet got almost no radio airplay leading up to this show. I assumed AC/DC liked them but I would come to learn that’s not always the case in the music biz. Other than a couple of EPs, they didn’t do much else, and with the recent demise of Zeppelin, Swan Song folded and Midnight Flyer were tossed into the dustbin of Rock history. All these years later I’ve listened to their stuff and it’s not terrible, but it’s still a sound that just wasn’t very exciting to the masses in ‘81-‘82, and I’ve heard countless bands over the past four decades just like them. Always hyped by someone, but never amounting to much.
The anticipation for the main attraction was surreal. Looking around the hazy arena (smoking of everything was happening) between sets, it was like I was in another world. And then the lights went out and the crowd roared as thousands of lighters lit up like Christmas. A recording of the bell at the beginning of “Hells Bells” began playing as a spotlight hit a huge bell hanging above the stage. It slowly descended till it was a few feet from the ground. That was when Brian Johnson appeared carrying a sledgehammer and rang the bell several more times before another sound took over, exciting the crowd even more and giving me chills. It was Angus playing the opening guitar chords of “Hells Bells”. He creeped across the stage entering into the spotlight previously occupied by the bell, which had returned to the rafters. I was in a trance that didn’t waver for two hours or more. I don’t recall much about leaving the arena, or the drive back to Irving, or telling my parents about it. I’m sure I said “It was awesome!” and at some point they just had to remove my batteries and shut me down for the night. I also don’t really remember the next day at school. I’m sure I strutted around like a king, giving and receiving the knowing nods from all the other cool kids. I do however remember when I got home after school that day. I was taking a walk through the woods behind our house and it just came to me. The entire show, every single song they played, in the exact sequence, EVERY move that Angus made; it was all right there, crystal clear in my mind. This was a superpower I had developed and that has been with me for many years, where I had seen a band that I loved intensely, and I could just remember every song they played in order. If I wasn’t totally accurate, I was certainly in the 90% range. Looking at the setlist that has been posted on Setlist.fm, I can remember it just like that…well, almost. Here’s what they have listed for AC/DC at Reunion Arena, Dallas TX, Feb. 2, 1982:
Shot Down In Flames
Put The Finger On You
Shoot To Thrill
Back In Black
Bad Boy Boogie
Rock ‘N’ Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution
What Do You Do For Money Honey
Highway To Hell
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
Whole Lotta Rosie
Let There Be Rock
You Shook Me All Night Long
For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)
Checking out the various bootlegs from the ‘81-‘82 US tour that are available on YouTube, as well as many of the entries on Setlist.fm, the setlists were pretty much the same every night. However, I can’t help but remember it a little different. First, I do remember hearing “What Do You Do For Money Honey”, which was a popular deep cut from Back In Black and got a lot of airplay on Dallas radio (the entire album got airplay, but there were four solid hits: “Bells”, “Shoot”, “You Shook Me” and the title cut). Some setlists show “Money” being switched out for “Let’s Get It Up”, which was the latest single from the new record. I remember my reaction to “Money” was that is was a solid tune from their most popular album and the band must consider it as important as the other hits. I also remember being surprised that they did not play their most recent single (“Let’s Get It Up” is however listed for the Feb. 1 show that my mom attended). Another deep cut from the previous album, that got tons of airplay and was definitely a fan favorite, was “Rock ‘N’ Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution”. I’ve seen AC/DC five times, and I don’t remember ever hearing that song played live. And furthermore, the “second act” of nearly every AC/DC show I saw or have seen on film/video, was the back-to-back set of “Bad Boy Boogie” and “The Jack” (“Boogie” would eventually be replaced by “Jailbreak” when I saw them in ‘85 and ‘88). It just doesn’t compute in my brain that after “Boogie”, the centerpiece of each show where Angus does his striptease bit, that they ever played anything other than “The Jack” (coincidentally, “The Jack” had become the striptease song when I saw them in 2009).
There are two more songs that weigh heavy in my memory that don’t appear on any of that tour’s setlists. I know my memory isn’t perfect and maybe I’m conflating things with the countless times I’ve seen the “Let There Be Rock” movie, but I’m pretty confident that they played “Problem Child” and “High Voltage”. My memory of the latter song is most likely the one I’m confusing by it’s common placement in their sets going back to the Bon Scott era. “High Voltage”, followed by “Whole Lotta Rosie” and “Let There Be Rock” seemed to be set in stone in my mind as the climax of the main sets in not just the Bon years, but continuing into Brian’s early tenure. I also have a strong memory of hearing Brian sing it, but maybe I’m wrong. “Problem Child” sticks in my mind even more. When the Dirty Deeds album finally got its US release in March of ‘81, it was an instant hit with fans, despite it being an older recording that some at Atlantic Records thought might confuse the fans that had just arrived with Back In Black. The title track and “Problem Child” both got massive airplay on my local radio. “Dirty Deeds” being revived into the band’s setlist was a no-brainer, and it’s never left it since. My theory to this memory I have of “Problem Child” being played could be that they knew the song was a hit in the Dallas market, just as “Money” was, and they decided to pull it out on this particular night, most likely bumping “Noise Pollution”. Again, I could be wrong.
For years I have regarded “AC/DC: Maximum Rock & Roll” by Murray Engleheart with Arnaud Durieux as the definitive biography of the band. Durieux is a French rock journalist, who refers to himself as the band’s “unofficial archivist” and was a consultant for the Bonfire box set and co-produced the amazing Plug Me In DVD set. Engleheart is a well respected Australian music writer, considered an authority on AC/DC, and also wrote the fantastic book “Blood, Sweat & Beers: Oz Rock From The Aztecs To Rose Tattoo”. I follow him on Facebook and his taste in music is impeccable. I first heard his name in the late ‘80s from the liner notes of Hard To Beat, a compilation album of twenty-one Australian bands covering The Stooges. My love of Australian Punk was greatly informed by his words. So naturally I returned to Engleheart and Durieux’s book (as I often do) to brush up on this period of the band. There’s a couple of things I had forgotten that blow my mind. During the first leg of this tour, AC/DC played three sold-out nights at the Rosemont Horizon in Chicago, November 19, 20, & 21, 1981 (the weekend For Those About To Rock was released). The very next night was the famous performance of Muddy Waters at the Checkerboard Lounge with members of The Rolling Stones joining him onstage. AC/DC were in Minneapolis but as stated in the book, “Malcolm and Angus would have done anything to be in Chicago that night instead.” Another interesting thing in the book is that the Stones had offered AC/DC a million dollars to open at least one of the stadium dates on their ‘81 tour. Wow. If these bands had been together in Dallas on my birthday… Would my parents have gone and taken me? AC/DC turned down the offer, choosing to focus on their new album and acknowledging that their days of being an opening act were over. Of course they would open for the Stones numerous times in the early ‘00s. Durieux also operates the website ac-dc.net, which lists tour histories. Sadly, there are no setlists for the two Dallas shows in February 1982, but the site does list several shows in the Fall of ‘81 that were tentative, cancelled and rescheduled. Originally the band was penciled-in to play Dallas on Nov. 9. That’s another mind blower that brings up the question of whether or not I would have been able to go to that show, just a week after the Stones were here.
Last but not least, I’ve put together a playlist for all of this. On Dec. 20 and 21, 1981, AC/DC played the Capital Centre in Landover, MD. The shows were filmed and portions were aired on the “Late Night In Concert” BBC One program and across Europe. The promo videos for “Let’s Get It Up” and “Put The Finger On You” were taken from these shows as well. Later on I picked up the “Let’s Get It Up” 12” single which included on the B-side, “Back In Black” and “TNT” recorded live from the Landover shows. I was thrilled to finally see the videos of these two songs on the Plug Me In DVD. If you watch any of these clips, be sure to watch the one for “TNT”. It’s simply one the best live videos of AC/DC. They just kick so much ass on that one song. I assembled other videos from the Landover shows in order of the setlist, with my few memory adjustments. I wanted to show, as close as possible, what I experienced 40 years ago. The videos, with a few exceptions, are bootlegged on YouTube, and look and sound really shitty (the sound totally disappears during “Let There Be Rock”), but it’s as good as it can be. There was a brief time that the film and recordings were to be officially released but probably will never be. I also included some audio clips of the Chicago Rosemont shows that are worth listening to. And I included the live version of “For Those About To Rock”, filmed during the Flick of The Switch tour in 1983, which was my second time to see them (just days before my 17th birthday) and more importantly, the time Rocky went to see them with me. I had won the tickets from a local radio station, the first and only time that ever happened for me. A week after I last saw them in 2009, Rocky began going through various health issues and left this world in 2012. During those last few years he was with us, we watched tons of films and concert videos together. He never stopped loving AC/DC. In fact he made me a believer in one of my favorites, Stiff Upper Lip, which he was hip to before I was (I threw my favorite song onto the playlist for the hell of it). One weekend we watched the entire Plug Me In set, Family Jewels, and Let There Be Rock, with mom even joining us a bit. AC/DC was a family affair for us.
Apologies for overusing the phrase “mind blown”. To paraphrase my #3 all-time favorite band, “I’ve got no mind to blow”.
Dedicated to Shawn Ritchie and Rocky Malone. Rock on!