I've been on an AC/DC bender the past month or more, possibly inspired by the presence of the above clip in my Facebook feed one day. Dear fucking lord, what a band they were. I'm not sure who else was on this episode of Midnight Special in 1978, but I can guarantee that this is the performance everyone would have remembered. Unless they happened to have the Saints or Ramones on the very same show - they didn't - then the sheer rawness of AC/DC on display here would have knocked every other contender for six.
It's not like AC/DC were part of the 'new thing'; they weren't punk rockers and this wasn't like seeing Fear on Saturday Night Live. They were simply a non-aligned rock & roll band on their own trip. Much of their sound was/is rooted in the music of 1972/'73 when they were forming - the booted stomp of Slade et al - and they never really changed this formula a hell of a lot, other than making successively lesser versions thereof, over a near-45-year period. Throughout 1977 the band toured the US, touring with Black Sabbath, playing shows at venues such as the Whiskey in LA (where Keith Morris and Chuck Dukowski cut rehearsal short to see them play) and CBGBs in NY, where they were mistaken for punks by various clueless journalists. But such a misjudgment is wholly understandable, as 'punk' cut a pretty wide definition by a public (and journalists) which largely didn't understand it, and anything which didn't sound like REO Speedwagon or Journey was bound to get caught up in the punk rock whirlwind somehow. But AC/DC disavowed such categoraization, and carried on as they were.
Powerage was the band's fifth LP since they began release records in 1975. Malcolm and Angus Young were ruthless in their work ethic and pursuit of all things AC/DC; if you've read any books on their career (Clinton Walker's Bon Scott bio, Highway To Hell, is a great one), you'll know just how cut-throat and unsentimental they were. They were also breaking the American market big time at this stage, and wouldn't be playing the small-scale venues they'd been slogging away in Down Under for the previous half-decade. On that note - or as a sidenote - I do find it fascinating how many older friends of mine saw the band in all kinds of strange venues when they were cutting their teeth in Australia ca. 1974 - 1976. Like Black Flag, they would simply play any gig, anywhere and at any time. Several friends of mine saw them play in the carpark of Eastland (Ringwood) Shopping Centre in 1975 (I think) in suburban Melbourne for an afternoon show, and they played various high schools around this time, too. Above is a flyer for a show in the plush surroundings of Kew in the Holy Trinity Hall circa February of 1976. Interestingly, supporting is Mandrix, a Hendrix/Hawkwind/Sabbath-style outfit who featured high school students John Murphy (Dumb and the Ugly, Current 93, Slub, Whitehouse, etc. - I have written of John many times before) and Michael Sheridan (Dumb and the Ugly, No, etc.). Mandrix have a track on a John Murphy tribute 3CD set from 2015, released just after he passed, and its heavy-metal space-boogie is an absolute revelation. I must investigate as to whether there are more such recordings lying around (and I can do so by emailing the link on the YouTube clip: it's Mick Sheridan himself, who has lived in Sydney for the past 20+ years). But I digress.
AC/DC released six full-length LPs before Bon passed and things changed forever. I happen to love both Back In Black and its successor, For Those About To Rock, We Salute You, and think Brian Johnson made a fine frontman for a number of years, but the material started to suffer in quality drastically after this period, the band went onto release a slew of recordings I never wish to hear again, and the rest is history. Still, that eight-album run - or six-album run if you're a real purist - is up there with similar uncategorisable rock pioneers such as the Ramones and Motorhead, and that clip above never ceases to blow my mind upon each successive viewing.