I first bought No Bull on VHS back in 1996 and I remember being not happy with it. After all the heavy that was upfront and center on there previous concert film Live At Donington, No Bull sounded thin. At the time, I thought this was in response to what was happening to mainstream music. I doubt by today’s standard AC/DC would be considered to be metal but at the time there was a blurred line. And in the mid-’90s metal was passé. It seemed to me as if they were cleaning up their sound with a desire to sound more “rock ‘n roll” than “hard rock”.
I was not the only one who wasn’t pleased with No Bull. The film’s director, David Mallet was in the same boat. Apparently he was rushed to get the product onto store shelves for the holiday season. Sacrifices were made and he was not pleased with the final result.
So, in 2008 we got AC/DC, No Bull: The Director’s Cut with a new 5.1 mix for Blu-ray and DVD – “for the ballbreaking experience it was meant to be”. While there are some great moments in the film itself, I’m still a little down on this one.
Although the audio has improved, and I like the 5.1 mix on here much better than Donington‘s, it is still not where I like it. It still sounds thin. Personally, I believe it is just how the show was captured that night, and there is no mix that can change it dramatically enough.
It isn’t terrible. Cliff’s bass has plenty of presence for a change. Brian’s voice usually sounds strained during this period and he does at times here. But he is mostly fine. Angus sounds alright too. He could use a little more low end growl, but not bad.
I do have a problem with Phil Rudd’s drums. They have plenty of snap but they are missing the bottom end. I remember this being the first time I heard him play Thunderstruck since Chris Slade originally played it on The Razors Edge and AC/DC Live. My first thought was… “Geez, this song just ain’t Phil’s.” A couple of years later his performance it on Stiff Upper Lip Live slaps. I’m not blaming Phil. I really don’t know what is up.
My other problem is Mal’s guitar. It is way too clean for me. It just doesn’t have that knock you out crunch that it has on their other live recordings. The overdrive is there but not enough balls.
Visually, the film is disappointing too. Super 16 mm film was used this time over the 35 mm Panavision like they had for Donington and it is a down grade. 16 mm shows heavy grain, the image looks washed out, red bleeds which is blurry as a result, and there is a lack of detail in the blacks. This being an AC/DC concert at night, there is a liberal use of red and black.
But there is still plenty to like.
I can see why they choose the Plaza De Toros de Las Ventas in Spain. What a venue! Built in 1931, The Beatles performed there in 1965, and it looks great on camera. It holds about 23,000 people for a concert and the crowd looks crammed in with columns running around the back part of the stands. They were really animated for the show so you got some great shots of the whole stadium jumping in time to the music.
The set list is a not as eclectic as Stiff Upper Lip Live but more so than Live At Donington. Highway To Hell is better represented with a couple of additional tunes, Shot Down in Flames and The Girls Got Rhythm. Dog Eat Dog makes its return to the set list from the ’70s as it was only played once in the ’80s. Boogie Man from Ballbreaker is not my favourite but I like this version. It gets the extended treatment as Angus does his stripe tease and it is a lot of fun.
The back end of the film has a lot of memorable moments too. We get to see Angus’ journey from the stage to the rising column in the middle of the crowd during Let There Be Rock. The extended performance of the song includes him pretending to use his guitar to set off sparks on a hand railing. Then, at the end he uses the tremelo bar on his Gibson SG! Wha???? I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before! Or since.
The big prop onstage for this tour was the “Ballbreaker wrecking ball”. It drops from the ceiling, cracking a hole in the stage that Angus rises up from to play Highway to Hell. It is good times.
For the extras, you get some performances with different shots. Mostly the “Angus cam” where it focuses on him during a performance. More exciting is the extra performance of Down Payment Blues. I think this might be the only official performance with Brian singing it. It is not the best quality, but it is cool to have.
I accidentally stumbled onto the animated menus. I left the disc on the menu screen to help Sarah with the groceries and I came back to a cowgirl riding a mechanical bull on my TV.
Really, No Bull: The Director’s Cut isn’t a bad show to own. It has plenty of its own memorable moments, and you have some exclusive live cuts that are very unlikely to heard elsewhere. It is only by comparison to their other live concert videos where I feel it lacks the same punch.