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A&E >  Music

Longtime fan looks back at AC/DC’s Spokane Coliseum debut in 1978

UPDATED: Thu., Nov. 12, 2020

When AC/DC concluded its 25-song set with the anthemic “For Those About to Rock” at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center four years ago, it appeared that the iconic Australian hard rock band was finished after a glorious 43-year run.

It was the final date of a tour the band almost didn’t complete. Guitarist Malcolm Young, who was suffering from dementia, died two months after the finale to its aptly tagged “Rock or Bust” jaunt. Bassist Cliff Williams announced that he would retire after the Philly show. Vocalist Brian Johnson had to bail on the tour due to an extreme hearing deficit. Drummer Phil Rudd sat out due to legal troubles.

All that was left was guitar hero Angus Young, who was flanked by Axl Rose, who was extraordinary in Philly. If there was ever a singer born to sing AC/DC songs, it’s the leather lunged Guns N’ Roses vocalist. Rose, who morphed from recluse throughout the mid- to late ‘90s to ubiquitous a half decade ago, absolutely nailed AC/DC classics such as “Problem Child’ and “Let There Be Rock.”

However, Rose, who was on hiatus from GNR, was doing the band a favor. The enigmatic singer embarked on a Guns N’ Roses tour after finishing the tour with AC/DC. So it appeared that AC/DC, which has sold more than 200 million albums, finished off its Rock and Roll Hall of Fame career during the waning days of the Obama administration.

However, AC/DC is back, but not in black, with “Power Up,” its 17th studio album. Young was sitting on a batch of material the group wrote during its 2008 sessions for the album “Black Ice.” Young, Johnson, who can hear once again thanks to technology, Williams, Rudd and guitarist Stevie Young, who is Angus and Malcolm’s nephew and part of the band since 2014, met with producer Brendan O’Brien in Vancouver, B.C., to record “Power Up.”

Young told Rolling Stone last month that “Power Up” is a tip of his schoolboy cap to Malcolm Young, just like AC/DC’s classic album, “Back in Black,” was to the band’s original singer, the late Bon Scott. The 12 new tracks sound like what else but AC/DC? Much like the Ramones, AC/DC has its own style. “Power Up” is filled with power chords and unrelenting hard rock. Most of the tracks pack a visceral punch to the gut.

The new tunes are cut from the same cloth as the band’s classics. I was fortunate enough to catch each of the band’s vocalists live, including Scott. The first concert I ever experienced was as a prepubescent in 1978 with the original version of AC/DC, which nearly blew KISS, who headlined, off the stage.

Apparently, AC/DC upped the ante for Aerosmith during a show in 1978 at the old Spokane Coliseum. Mike Wolfe, a Spokane attorney, recalls becoming an instant fan of AC/DC, even though he knew nothing about the group before the show.

“I went to the concert because of Aerosmith,” Wolfe said while calling from his office. “I didn’t know what I would get since Aerosmith’s toxic twins (vocalist Steven Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry) were at their worst (in terms of debauchery).”

Wolfe had no expectation when it came to AC/DC, who delivered future favorites such as “Whole Lotta Rosie” and “High Voltage.” “I didn’t know who they were, but when AC/DC came onstage, they immediately grabbed my attention,” Wolfe recalled. “I remember Angus Young had his trademark schoolboy outfit on, and they were fired up! I remember sitting there thinking, ‘Who are these guys?’ They were awesome! I remember watching Angus on top of Bon Scott’s shoulders. Angus jumped out into the audience and played in the crowd.

“I never saw anything like that before. Back then, people stayed on the stage and performed. They were so much fun! The cool thing is that I remember how the audience at the Coliseum loved them, even though I’m guessing that most people didn’t know who they were yet. But it’s not surprising since Spokane has always had an affinity for hard rock. AC/DC was called back for an encore.”

During the ‘70s, opening acts, who were occasionally booed off the stage, didn’t normally receive invitations to return after completing their set. “But AC/DC deserved to come back,” Wolfe recalled. “They were as good, if not better, than Aerosmith.”

Wolfe not only has a soft spot for AC/DC, the South Hill resident also has fond memories of the Spokane Coliseum, which was hardly an ideal concert venue, which had a capacity of only 5,400.

“There was no place quite like the Boone Street Barn, as it was nicknamed,” Wolfe said. “The acoustics weren’t that great. It wasn’t designed for rock concerts of any size. But that’s what we had in Spokane back when I was 17, and when you look back, it was prehistoric. You listened to KREM-FM (which existed until 1984) to listen to new music. You still needed to read Rolling Stone and Creem to keep up. It was a good time then, and I’m proud to say that I saw AC/DC here in 1978.”

AC/DC returned to the Coliseum in 1986 and 1988 with Scott as vocalist. By then, the Aussies earned superstar status and were playing halls much larger than the Boone Street Barn. But to their credit, AC/DC returned to Spokane.

“I’m not surprised that AC/DC came back to Spokane since, like I said, it’s a hard rock town,” Wolfe said. “It still is. We love that stuff here.”

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