Plug Me In is a record of AC/DC's live history, with footage from shows around the world and TV appearances. However, it's also a record of AC/DC themselves. This two-DVD set is conclusive evidence that the band's raw, stripped-down rock has better suited the stage than wax. With five hours of content, Plug Me In is an immersive audiovisual history lesson.
AC/DC may have made the same album 15 times, but they did so with surprisingly diverse personnel. The band has had three singers (counting initial vocalist Dave Evans, who never recorded a full-length with AC/DC), two bassists, and three drummers, alongside mainstays Malcolm and Angus Young on guitars. AC/DC have also had an array of producers – Harry Vanda and George Young, Mutt Lange, Bruce Fairbairn, Rick Rubin, and themselves. The result has been a discography with seemingly minute but substantial variations.
These nuances play out vividly in their live history. Plug Me In devotes one disc each to AC/DC's main singers, Bon Scott and Brian Johnson. Their range is similar, but their styles are vastly different. Scott is more of a pure singer; his bluesiness befits AC/DC's start as Australia's answer to The Rolling Stones (with whom AC/DC jammed in amazing footage here from 2003). Johnson is a growler with little technique; he misses most of his notes live, muscling his way through shows on gusto alone.
Under Johnson, not only did AC/DC transition from rock 'n' roll to hard rock, they also became an arena rock band. Thus, Johnson's disc is less interesting, as arenas aren't that different from each other (though the crowd in Paris' Stade de France, which holds 80,000, is mind-bogglingly endless). In contrast, Scott's disc finds AC/DC playing schools, clubs, and theaters. In these smaller settings, his charisma shines. Numerous daughters must have been locked up on his account. His foil Angus Young also thrives on this intimacy. He headbangs, duckwalks, and spins on the floor, and hardly drops a note.
However, the rhythm section is AC/DC's ace in the hole. The pairing of bassist Cliff Williams and drummer Phil Rudd is ridiculously "in the pocket." It's easy to take them for granted, as they steadily pump away without fanfare. But take away Rudd, and AC/DC isn't the same. Rudd left the band from 1983 to 1994, and his absence is palpable here. Simon Wright (Fly on the Wall, Who Made Who, and Blow Up Your Video) and Chris Slade (The Razor's Edge) are capable replacements. However, neither played behind the beat like Rudd; compare the intro hi-hat work in "Thunderstruck" and "Hard as a Rock," the opening songs from 1990's The Razor's Edge (Slade) and 1995's Ballbreaker (Rudd).
Rudd's groove and timing come across best in a 1996 "live in the studio" VH1 session. The band does a relaxed yet rocking reading of "Gone Shootin'," from 1978's Powerage. For once, Johnson fits into Scott's shoes. His sense of comfort is visible, as he smiles through the entire take. Free of arena hysterics, AC/DC revert to good old-fashioned garage jamming. It's a wonderfully warm moment on a disc that mostly sells rock rather than feels it.
Though Scott's disc is more artistically fulfilling than Johnson's, both are enjoyable. This is due to flawless editing that assembles a "greatest hits" song selection in varied settings. Particularly poignant is the historic 1991 Monsters of Rock show in Moscow, the first such hard rock/metal concert in the former Soviet Union. Alongside Metallica, Pantera, and The Black Crowes, AC/DC played to an estimated half-million people. In the context of a recent failed coup to restore Communism, the anticipation and excitement in the crowd is incredibly heavy.
Scott's highlight is equally surreal. In a 1976 Australian TV appearance, he wears a Superman shirt, gleefully shouldering the bagpipes of "It's a Long Way to the Top." The TV studio has filled the stage with dancing women (!), and the broadcast adds delightfully psychedelic split screen effects. Even early on, AC/DC seemed incapable of a bad show. One must have slipped through occasionally, but judging from this abundance of riches, it must have been rare.