A GREAT SET FROM THE ORIGINAL VOICE OF AC/DC
Date: April 26, 2019
Venue: The Rockpile
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
I have nothing but respect for original (and former) AC/DC lead vocalist Dave Evans. Despite getting let go after — about eight months or so back in 1974 — from a band that eventually became one of the biggest hard rock bands, if not the biggest, in the world, Evans has continued to record and play music in live venues with what I can only describe as a great attitude. How big did AC/DC become only years after Evans‘ forced departure from the band? Wikipedia lists AC/DC‘s Back In Black album (released back in 1980) as the third highest selling album of all-time with over 50 million claimed sales only behind Michael Jackson‘s blockbuster record Thriller (1982) and The Eagles‘ 1976 compilation album Their Greatest Hits (1971 -1975). Fifty million! That’s about double the population in Australia and almost the entire population of England! Can you imagine going to England and every citizen having a copy of Back In Black?
You might be wondering why I am bestowing all of this respect to Evans. The reason is simple. Dave Evans had just started a tour playing smaller clubs throughout Canada. The audience numbers were pretty dismal for Evans‘ appearance at The Rockpile in Toronto. I wasn’t going to mention numbers but what the hell. I literally counted about 14 people (including myself) at the front of the stage with a larger number of people hanging back near the bars towards the back of the venue. Nevertheless, Evans along with his backing band dubbed the Canadian Badasses (mostly consisting of members from the Canadian AC/DC tribute band Hells Bells) put on a fantastic performance and the 65 year old singer thanked just about everyone that he could from the stage. It seemed that Evans and his backing band were playing to a crowd of thousands of people but they weren’t. Evans was a total pro. I was thoroughly impressed. And rather than being bitter about AC/DC‘s massive success without him, Evans was graciously paying tribute to his now deceased successor Bon Scott by playing a number of his favourite songs from that era of the band at the end of his set.
Before I get into the great set by Dave Evans & The Canadian Badasses, let me start with what ended playing a big role in my attendance at Evans‘ Toronto tour stop. Back in early 2015, I interviewed former Wolfchild drummer Tomi Nouisianen. Wolfchild released back in 2006 what I still consider to be one of my favorite all-time albums — their self-titled full-length debut album — which sadly also turned out to be their last record. Nouisianen explained to me that he and ex-Wolfchild guitarist Marko Purosto were going to be part of the Finnish Badasses backing Evans throughout the latter’s tour of Finland. I even briefly considering going to Finland in the summer of 2015 to catch a few shows before reality set in. As it turns out and somewhat similar to what former Iron Maiden singer Blaze Bayley does from time to time with Iron Maiden tribute acts, Evans gets a national AC/DC tribute act to be his backing band at whichever country that he decides to tour in. Each backing band is called the ‘Badasses‘ and identified through their country — hence the Finnish Badasses, the Canadian Badasses, etc. If you think about it, it is a brilliant way for Evans to keep the costs down while touring the world since he really only has to worry about himself for flights, etc.
As seems to be my usual pattern whenever I am attending a concert at The Rockpile, I put my kids to bed and ensured that the youngest one had fallen asleep before heading out to catch the headliner’s set. I can always tell how busy that The Rockpile will be from the parking lot. Obviously, the less cars in the parking lot, the less concert attendees there will be. For the last little while (at least one year or so), rental car company Enterprise Rent-A-Car has been using part of the parking lot so even a large amount of vehicles in The Rockpile parking lot is now deceptive since many of those vehicles might belong to the rental car company. There was no doubt that parking was a little light but I hoped for the best. I am not sure where I got a look at the various bands’ set times but I found out fairly quickly once inside the venue that AC/DC tribute band Hells Bells would be on at 10:30 pm followed by Dave Evans at 11:15 pm. That was fantastic as this meant that I would catch the set for each of those bands.
I readily admit that I have never been that keen on tribute bands. Over the last couple of years, my views have softened and I have seen The Iron Maidens, Destroyer (KISS tribute act) as well as Paradise Kitty (Guns N’ Roses tribute act who were opening for Faster Pussycat) in live settings. Nevertheless, I have never really felt compelled to go see a tribute act play (except for The Iron Maidens). I was somewhat intrigued to see Hells Bells play as obviously, someone would have to take the role of AC/DC lead guitarist Angus Young, which is no easy feat. I got to say that I was really impressed with Hells Bells. I tried to find the various Hells Bells band members’ names via the internet but couldn’t find them. So in short, every Hells Bells band member looked and played their part really well. The rhythm guitarist “tributing” as Malcolm Young looked and felt like the latter but without the hair. The lead guitarist portraying Angus Young was quite a bit taller than the AC/DC guitarist but did a great job covering The Rockpile stage and taking centre stage for a good portion of the show. The bassist “tributing” as Cliff Williams looked the part although I thought that he could have been a tad more dynamic on stage. When I looked at the Hells bells drummer, it felt like Phil Rudd was there with his smaller drum set. And finally, the Hells Bells singer looked like Brian Johnson but seemed to have a voice better suited for the Bon Scott catalog of songs.
Hells Bells opened their set with a song that sounded so familiar yet I could not come up with the name. That would be the only song that I couldn’t name right off the bat. The track in question turned out to be “Up To My Neck In You” from AC/DC‘s 1978 album Powerage. Thank you to Hells Bells for identifying the song for me after the show. Hells Bells did a good job of mixing in some more popular AC/DC tracks with slightly more obscure ones. After the opening track, they launched into the easy to song along with “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” and the familiar “Shoot To Thrill” (from AC/DC‘s mega selling Back In Black album). The only song during which I thought that Hells Bells lead vocalist just didn’t sound quite right was during “Shoot To Thrill.” He didn’t seem able to emulate Brian Johnson‘s singing on that one but on all the other tracks, he was bang on. It was great to hear songs such as “Money Talks” and “Girl Got Rhythm” in a live setting. It reminded me how AC/DC could easily play a set without any of their “hits” and it’s likely that it would be a better set than most bands out there. That’s how many great songs that AC/DC have penned throughout their career.
Interestingly enough, there was a bigger crowd for Hells Bells near the front of the stage than there was for Evans later on in the evening. I thought that Hells Bells frontman did a ballsy move by advising the crowd that they would be singing the words to the first verses of the next song without even letting us know which track was next. As the familiar beat of “You Shook Me All Night Long” started to play out, I was wondering if I would remember the lyrics myself but it all came back to me rather quickly and it was very cool to hear the audience singing the lyrics at the start of the song. The Hells Bells singer even took out a bagpipe during (I believe) the song “It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Want To Rock ‘N’ Roll)” before the band closed its stellar set with “Thunderstruck.” While I was surprised that some AC/DC songs were not played, I also knew that Evans would likely play a few AC/DC classics himself so Hells Bells’ setlist was likely decided to some point by what Evans would be playing later on that night.
Hells Bells’ setlist:
01. Up To My Neck In You
02. Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
03. Shoot To Thrill
04. Shot Down In Flames
05. Money Talks
06. Girls Got Rhythm
07. Back In Black
08. If You Want Blood, You’ve Got It
09. You Shook Me All Night Long
10. It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Want To Rock ‘N’ Roll)
Before long, it was time for the legendary Dave Evans to hit the stage. As it turns out, the lead guitar player, rhythm guitar player and drummer from Hells Bells were all part of the Canadian Badasses backing band for Evans at The Rockpile. The lead guitar player changed outfits and continued to be as dynamic onstage as he had previously been portraying Angus Young during Hells Bells‘ set. During certain segments of Evans‘ set, the lead guitar player seemed to want to get into Angus mode with his moves before seemingly stopping himself. Whatever the case, the guy has great stage presence and is fun to watch. The rhythm guitar player looked and acted pretty much played the same way that he did during Hells Bells‘ set except that he wore a sleeveless t-shirt and no Brian Johnson cap. Pretty soon, it was time for the one and only Dave Evans to take the stage and he came onstage smiling and ready to rock to the sounds of AC/DC‘s first single “Can I Sit Next To You, Girl.” This was followed by “Rockin’ In The Parlour” (the b-side to the single) and Evans‘ released material with AC/DC had already been covered. It’s pretty amazing to think that these were the first songs released by AC/DC given that even though they obviously sound different than the usual AC/DC fare that we have become accustomed to, both songs still sounded great live more 45 years later!
Evans made sure to thank a female fan that was up front near the stage. The woman apparently brought a nice present for Evans who seemed genuinely touched with the surprise. I liked that Evans took the time to introduce each song from his set. Although I was not familiar at all with Evans‘ own solo material heading into this concert, I really enjoyed the solo material that he played. Three songs were from Evans‘ 2007 solo record Sinner (“Take Me Down Again”, “Sold My Soul To Rock ‘N’ Roll” and “Rock ‘N’ Roll Or Bust”) and they all sounded terrific and had some AC/DC feel to them. “Go Wild” was from Dave Evans & Barbed Wire‘s 2017 EP Wild (which I consider to be an Evans solo album). One surprising song was Evans‘ rendition of the classic “House Of The Rising Sun” which again sounded really good. I really enjoyed how into the songs that Evans seemingly was despite the rather small crowd on hand. I was ecstatic that Evans played the song “Baby, Please Don’t Go” since AC/DC‘s Jailbreak EP is probably my favorite AC/DC record after Back In Black.
Things really picked up when Evans started cranking out the more familiar AC/DC tunes. “TNT” and “Highway To Hell” had the audience singing or better yet screaming along. Evans continued to be gracious thanking Hells Bells for opening and funny enough thanking the other opening acts before surprisingly asking if there even were any. It seemed that Evans might have arrived pretty late to the venue since he wasn’t sure if there were any opening acts other than Hells Bells (I believe that there were three others!). Evans also wished “Happy Birthday” to radio announcer Junior Leclerc who also performed MC duties during the time that I was there. The closing number “Let There Be Rock” was a nice surprise and one of the heavier tunes of the evening. Although the band prolonged the song quite a bit with some jams, it still sounded great and captivating all the way through. I thought that this might be the end of the evening but Evans and company came back for one more song after some loud cheers from whomever was near the front of the stage. I should note that perennial Rockpile concert attendee Jackie was in attendance. If you’ve ever been to a concert at The Rockpile, odds are that you’ve heard Jackie scream out the words “That was fuckin’ awesome man” after a song is played. Upon getting back to the stage for the encore, Evans noted that if he felt the crowd wasn’t loud enough (or something like that), he usually just leaves without doing an encore. That clearly was not going to be the case with Jackie in the audience! Evans & the Canadian Badasses then launched into a great rendition of “Whole Lotta Rosie” to close out the night.
I have to say that I was a little embarrassed that the Toronto rock faithful didn’t come out in bigger numbers to see Evans. He was after all the original singer for what remains one of the biggest bands in the world. Surely, there would be more than 50 people (my estimate) that would want to hear a man such as Evans belt out some early AC/DC tunes as well as a few of the band’s classics. I couldn’t help but think of when I saw AC/DC play at the Rogers Centre in Toronto back in 2008 to about 50,000 people. Even though I was very far from the stage and the AC/DC members looked like little specs on stage, the crowd was so into it standing from their seats throughout AC/DC‘s entire set (at least from my vantage point). It’s just like when the Axl Rose led Guns N’ Roses played the Sound Academy in Toronto (which had a capacity of about 3,000 people) in July 2013. Three years later, Guns N’ Roses with the “reunited” Axl Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan were playing the Rogers Centre in Toronto with a capacity of 50,000. It boggles the mind that so many people will come out to see a “big” band but former individual members from that group might only be able to generate 0.1% of that audience. Whatever the case, I am very grateful that Evans came to Toronto and put on a stellar set despite the rather small crowd there to see him. The man demonstrated that he is a total pro. Evans still has five more Canadian tour dates from May 2nd to 11th so whomever has the opportunity to see him play should really take it.
01. Can I Sit Next To You, Girl