ALICE IN CHAINS
The Seattle Grunge explosion that occurred in the early 90's spawned a few major bands....the sad irony though is that the bulk of those bands are no longer functioning units...Soundgarden split & each member went their separate ways, Nirvana ended when Kurt committed suicide, Pearl Jam actually were the only band to maintain the same key members & they continued to grow, change, tour, & release records to this very day, BUT, the darkhorse from the Seattle grunge scene, the one band that leaned more towards the "metal" side even if they didn't always admit to it, was Alice in Chains, but sadly, the bands voice, lead singer Layne Staley, died from a drug overdose a few years back, so the possibility of Alice in Chains touring isn't possible, right? WRONG!
When Alice in Chains went on indefinite hiatus many years ago, lead guitarist Jerry Cantrell began a solo career...he brought Alice in Chains drummer Sean Kinney along with him for the first 1/2 of his solo career & the beauty of seeing Jerry Cantrell's solo shows was that you definitely got to see & hear a few Alice in Chains covers sprinkled in amongst Jerry's solo material, I mean, Jerry wrote all of the music in Alice in Chains, he sang lead on several songs & did all the back ups vocals, so he had a right to perform those songs, & for all the Alice in Chains fans, it was nice to see & hear the A.I.C. songs performed & kept alive! One of the members of Jerry's solo band, who remained a member from the very beginning, was a guy names William DuVall...the Washington, DC native had an eerie similarity, vocal wise, to Layne, & although there were definitely differences in their styles, William did a damn good job of covering the Layne Staley vocals. About 3 years ago, it was announced that the surviving members of Alice in Chains, the "Dirt" touring line up, would re-unite & tour...it was more of a celebration of what Alice in Chains was, they played 2 hours set that covered all the bases, there was a nice little tribute to Layne in the middle, & in all honesty, the ENTIRE Alice in Chains tour WAS a tribute to the memory & legacy of Layne Staley! After the band completed a lengthy world tour, the creative juices were flowing, the chemistry was there, & it was announced that the band, featuring Jerry Cantrell, Mike Inez, Sean Kinney & new singer William DuVall, would enter a studio to begin the next chapter in Alice in Chains career & they would record a new record through Virgin Records!
"Check My Brain" was the first single leaked to radio & the buzz was filled with mixed reactions...old school fans both loved & hated the new song...it definitely wasn't Layne on vocals, BUT, on a musical level, it WAS Alice in Chains, it sounded like they picked up where they left off after their last studio record, which was their self titled record...the one with the 3 legged dog on the cover. The opening guitar lick for "Check My Brain" was a subtle yet sludgy string bend & the chorus was dark, heavy & pure grunge! Alice in Chains actually started playing shows overseas in 2009 as a warm up for the start of their headlining US tour... they did a bunch o' the overseas festival shows this Summer & they used those shows to get the band back in form, to work out the kinks in the new songs they were performing, & the first official night of their 2009 US Tour was on September 4, 2009, at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC.
The show had been sold out for several weeks, local radio had hyped the hell out of it, & I'll admit it, as a music fan, as an Alice in Chains fan, I was definitely excited to see the band playing in downtown DC in a nice, mid-sized club where you could easily get right up front of the band if that was what you wanted, or you could hang out at the bar & enjoy the music from a distance, while still enjoying the show! By the time the doors opened for the show a little after 8 PM, the line to get into the 9:30 Club had snaked 1/2 way around the building & it was actually impressive to know that Alice in Chains still had that kinda following, that there were fans of the band, despite Layne no longer being with them.
There was NO opening act, the ONLY band playing this night was Alice in Chains, so somewhere around 9:45 PM-ish the band took the stage & there was no hype, no big curtains, no amazing intro...the band just walked on the stage, grabbed their instruments & started jammin on "Rain When I Die"! The set they played was heavy on "Dirt" era material & it was quite interesting how they played their biggest hit, "Man in the Box" really early on in the set...it was the 3rd song played! William is NOT Layne Staley by any means, BUT, on a performance level, William is good...I'll admit that, as an Alice in Chains fan, the first few times I saw William singing the Alice In Chains classics, I didn't like it at first...I didn't want to see another guy singing the songs that I loved, it felt weird, BUT, when you see this version of Alice in Chains, you have to have an open mind...the band gives it their all, William DOES the classic A.I.C. songs justice & on a performance level, in all honesty, he adds alot to the show, because William is a good rhythm guitar player & he plays guitar quite a bit during the show, so the guitar tone is even fatter & chunkier sounding these days. When Jerry Cantrell took the stage, Jerry looked a little tired & weathered, but after the first song his demeanor changed, he perked up, was ready to rock, gave it 110% & the most interesting fumble of the night was when Jerry broke a guitar string during "Man in The Box" & he pulled a diva move by throwing the guitar down & slamming it to the ground & hastily grabbing a replacement guitar from his roadie....there was about 15 seconds of "Man in the Box" where, musically, it was just drums & bass, because Jerry stopped playing after he broke a string...other than that little moment, the show was flawless!
For the musicians out there, I'll point out that the band played all of their Drop D songs in a cluster..."Them Bones", "Dam..", "A Looking.." & "We Die Young" were all played in Drop D & played back to back before Jerry switched over to standard tuning that's tuned down but NOT Drop D styled. In the middle of the bands set, William pointed to the balcony of the club & said a hello to his grandmother & family who showed up & he made it a point to tell the crowd that DC is his hometown & he thanked all his family & friends for showing up. The band played a total of 3 new songs & I included the entire set list at the end of this review as it was posted on the stage.
It was weird for me to see this particular show, because I remember seeing Alice in Chains on their very first tour, I was still in school, my Dad took me to see the Clash of the Titans tour & the Alice guys were so young, so fresh, so new, the Seattle stuff was just happening & Nirvana hadn't became international superstars just yet, & seeing Jerry Cantrell directly infront of me at this show, it was almost like stepping into a time machine & going forward many years ahead...the music business is such a fickle bitch, bands come & go on a very daily basis, so it's nice to see that Alice in Chains managed to hang on, stay around, & they are still playing & making new music in 2009! The one moment of the show that I won't lie about is, when they played "Would?", musically, it's the same band, BUT, vocally, Layne Staley IS that song....the lyrics, ironically, are about the sad demise of Andrew Wood, singer for Mother Love Bone, who also died from a drug overdose... the crowd might have sang just as loud as William, BUT, no one can EVER replace Layne's vocals on that song! Opening night of Alice in Chains' US tour was a success, they came, they saw, they rocked! As for the new songs performed..."Check My Brain" sounded identical to the single you hear on radio, it was flawless, sounded great, "Acid Bubble" is a weird song...there's a heavy & fast part to it that's killer, but the slow parts really need to grow on you...it almost sounds like "Dirt" era left overs. "A Looking In View" was my favorite of the new songs they performed...again, it sounds like the "Dirt" era of the band, it's dark, heavy, & sonically, it's right out of the "Dirt" era of the bands history...it's a song that you can almost hear Layne singing & it rocks!! What I give Alice in Chains alot of credit for, is that they have changed over the years, on a musical level, BUT, they've always retained a very dark, aggressive element that's NEVER left the band & I believe that's what keeps the bands fanbase so loyal...when you see an Alice in Chains concert, you get what you expect, they sound like they do on their records, they don't try to re-invent things, they are who they are, they do what they do, they are no frills, it's all about the music, & the ONLY big difference in this show as opposed to previous shows I've seen from the band is, there was NO un-plugged portion of the show, when they played "Nutshell" & "No Excuses", they were performed electric! The nights closer was a somber version of "Rooster" which pretty much sums up the bands vibe ten-fold...the dark beauty mixed with intense emotions, the mellow mixed with the harsh, the extreme highs & the extreme lows...that sums up the core of what grunge music was all about & it's nice to still have Alice in Chains as an active band in 2009/2010! Please remember one important thing though if you are going to see Alice in Chains in concert...keep an open mind, they have a different singer, they do their best to re-create the magic of Layne Staley, but it's NOT Layne, so go to the show with an open mind & you won't be disapointed!
Set List for 9/4/09
Rain When I Die
Man in the Box
Dam That River
A Looking In View
We Die Young
Love Hate Love
Check My Brain