40 Years Ago: AC/DC Play Their First U.S. Show
On July 27, 1977, the Canadian band Moxy were set to make their first headlining appearance in the U.S. at a show in Austin. Coming from Toronto may have been a bit of a hike, but their opening act had traveled much farther, nearly 8,500 miles across the Pacific Ocean from Sydney, Australia.
Touching down on American soil for the first time, AC/DC arrived at the Armadillo World Headquarters and were intent on impressing everyone in the club that night. “I remember it like it was yesterday,” Moxy lead guitarist Earl Johnson told The Austin Chronicle in 2008. “The vibe was there. Everyone knew they would break.”
AC/DC were far from breaking at the time. Even though they had a large following and three successful albums in their homeland, their first U.S. release, High Voltage, came out the previous May, and was dead on arrival. It had performed so poorly that Stateside label Atlantic Records balked at distributing its follow-up, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, five months later.
Still, there was a demand for the group, with one particular notable in Texan promoter Jack Orbin, who heard the Aussies on the local radio station KMAC/KISS. “AC/DC always stood out as something special,” Orbin told Jesse Fink in the book The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC. “Perhaps it was the raw rock ‘n’ roll beat that they drove home so well. At any rate, [DJs] Lou [Roney] and Joe [Anthony] played them and I wanted to promote them immediately. They were destined to become popular from the outset. Moxy was also a San Antonio favorite. However, AC/DC even back then played second fiddle to no one. How could they?”
Led by the raucous Bon Scott at the microphone and the diminutive Angus Young in his ubiquitous schoolboy outfit, the band was out to shake the foundations of audience members who paid $5.50 per ticket. “Angus Young drove into the crowd and was carried for as far as his guitar cord would allow him to go,” photographer Al Rendon told the Chronicle. “He was literally walking on people’s hands.”
It was not only the first time AC/DC performed in the U.S.; it was also their first live shows with bassist Cliff Williams, who had recently replaced Mark Evans on bass. The band was supporting its latest album, Let There Be Rock, which had been released in the U.S. just two days earlier. (In typical fashion, the LP came out four months earlier in the band’s native Australia.)
Three of the seven songs the group played that night came from the new album in succession after the opening two tracks, “Live Wire” and “She’s Got Balls.” The one-two-three Let There Be Rock punch of “Problem Child,” “Whole Lotta Rosie” and “Dog Eat Dog” were the showcases of the set, bookended on the downside by “The Jack” and a cover of the Big Joe Williams blues classic “Baby Please Don’t Go.”
Though brief, AC/DC’s electrifying set that Wednesday night would build enough buzz that less than a year later, in the first week of July 1978, they were headlining Austin’s Opry House. “Everyone was there to hear Moxy,” recalled Rendon of that first gig. “And then there was this weird Australian band opening up that nobody knew anything about. AC/DC stole the show.”
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