Hear AC/DC tear up legendary punk venue CBGB’s on their first US tour
We’re dipping into the Far Out Magazine vaults to look back at when heavy metal took over punk for one night. It sees AC/DC arrive at CBGB and turned it into a stadium.
When AC/DC arrived in New York City in 1977, the city was a bubbling swell of dark and creative energy and rock power. The foundations of punk had found a home in the city’s underbelly and now the soon-to-be titans of heavy metal were arriving in the US for the very first time with a wrecking ball setlist capable of turning any venue, no matter its credentials, into dust.
Traditional rock and roll had become largely stagnant by the mid-70s, with the embers of glam-rock fading and the push towards purist musicianship in full prog-rock flow—for that, punk was a three-chord shot in the arm. AC/DC were far too handy around their instruments to be heralded as punk saviours, knowing at least four or five different chords. However, AC/DC presented all the power and fury that had seen the rise of the genre across the globe.
“We just call ourselves a rock band,” Angus Young said at the time. “We don’t like being classified as a ‘punk rock’ band. Not everyone can be punk rock. It’s great that there are new bands, fresh faces and all that, but there are good bands and bad bands within that punk rock.”
He considered the prospect for a moment, before adding, “Actually the punk thing is pretty cool in America. It’s not like England where it’s a very political thing — a dole queue type thing. There’s too much money over here to classify all the punk bands as dole queues and dropouts. It’s just a young thing — a new breed type thing.”
The Aussies, however far removed from ‘punk’, were still being promoted as such venues across America on their first tour. PUNK magazine’s John Holstrom remembers: “AC/DC were marketed as a punk band around that time, CBS bought ads for them in PUNK, we interviewed them for PUNK.” It was a classification that saw the band book a big venue for their first steps on to a New York stage as they performed at the Palladium on August 24th, opening for the Dictators and the Michael Stanley Band.
Andy Shernoff, the founder of the Dictators, remembers the show and the band’s US debut very well. “They were great, very friendly,” Shernoff says. “They were not superstars yet, they were easy to hang out with, no pretension, no attitude.” He adds, laughing, “Angus is a midget! Bon Scott was small, too. It’s amazing. How can short guys make a sound like that? It’s almost technically impossible.”
Shernoff continued, “They had killer live songs, better than on the studio albums. People loved them. They were fantastic, no bullshit.” The group delivered a sensational performance which saw Scott win acclaim for his mesmerising vocals and on stage humility and paradoxically, Young’s unique showmanship and searing solos gaining swathes of fans with every lick. It was a huge success and saw AC/DC gather pace as the forefathers of heavy metal and the new kings of rock.
To celebrate their enthrallment of the sold-out 3,400-capacity venue, AC/DC thought they would match Shernoff’s glowing endorsement of their “no bullshit” demeanour and take the party to another venue—the iconic punk venue CBGB.
CBGB had opened a few years prior to little musical fanfare but had since begun to steadily incubate some of the most incendiary music the city had ever seen, and the world was starting to know about it. Acts like Ramones, Patti Smith, Blondie, and Talking Heads are all alumni of the gritty and grimy scene it developed within its sweating walls. But was a punk haven the place for AC/DC, a soloing heavy rock band to let loose? The band decided to find out with blood, sweat and tears.
Only an hour after the Palladium show AC/DC surprised the management of CBGB and showed up to the venue unannounced. The group plugged into the venue’s ropey system and played a handful of songs including ‘Live Wire’ and ‘She’s Got Balls’ with each one racking up nearly seven minutes of solos and heavy metal pretension.
With Scott dressed in his cut off denim jacket, bare chest and medallion combo, and Angus Young providing a bouncing reason for flying fists of disgruntled CBGB regulars. AC/DC were being pretty punk.
In the crowd that night was Robert Francos, visiting the venue as part of the New York rock & roll zine Ffanzeen, he remembers the band’s guerilla gig: “As Marbles’ set was ending, suddenly there was a commotion at the back of the club and I figured, ‘Oh, I bet some drunk was getting tossed’. Then I noticed part of the crowd moving toward the stage, surrounding a cluster of people. That’s when they announced the next band to play over the speaker, and it was not one who was scheduled. One of the group of people had long-hair, muscles and a grainy face; the one behind him was diminutive, wearing short pants that looked like part of a school uniform, and was carrying a guitar case.”
“At one point, Angus switched guitars that either had a remote or a really long cord (I can’t remember which). He then made his way through the crowd, while playing wild solo licks, and went outside. So, there was little Angus, while still playing, talking to the transient gents from the Palace Hotel milling outside CBGB.”
The appearance has been widely bootlegged and you can listen to the full show from AC/DC as they took over CBGB’s and announced themselves to the underbelly of America.