It was devastating news in 2002 when I learned of Layne Staley's passing. He had so much character, angst, and emotion in his vocal delivery. Although Alice In Chains had been dormant for years, with Jerry Cantrell still popping out solo albums, I was hopeful that he would put the band back together after he got a few things out of his system. It turns out it was Staley who should have cleansed himself in a more literal sense.
As time went on, something strange happened. I was expecting Cantrell to release music more aggressively than he had the chance to with his band that was always on the brink of implosion due to substance issues. Instead Cantrell stayed out of the spot light. He only released one album which was pretty much in the bag before the tragic event that was Staley's end Even more time had passed and then something even stranger happened; Alice in Chains came back.
Their return was not abrupt or forced; it started with a charity gig that had a number of guest vocalists, one of which became the permanent front man for the band, William Duvall. Then it became a tour. Then it became working on new material. At first when I heard they were recording a new album, I wasn't convinced they had the right guy. Duvall sounds great. As a matter of fact, the live footage I saw from that first tour, it was because he sounded so great that I was skeptical. Staley was not a technical singer, whereas Duvall has incredible control over his vocals. I thought he sounded too pitch perfect in spots, where I was hoping there would be that loose desperation that infected Staley. The best thing about first impressions is they have an incredible ability to remind you that you can be wrong.
Alice in Chains are now touring their second album with Duvall. Even with my loyalist tendencies to their classic material, I can't help but admit that their new stuff is just as compelling as anything from their phase one career. Finally having a chance to see first hand their live representation of their catalogue, I have to admit that I am glad William Duvall is singing.
As talented as he was, Layne was not a professional. As sad as it is to say, I am happy the band can honour his life's work without the burden of sensational headlines. Look at Scott Weiland and Stone Temple Pilots. Who is to say that we wouldn't have seen a similar media circus over AIC had Layne showed up and performed poorly or irresponsibly? It is very tragic, and I wish he could have found the way, but he leaves behind a very blatant batch of songs and serves as a spokesperson to the un-romanticised end of drugs. The way things ended allowed this band to find itself again, and continue to make music that still very much is haunted by Staley.
If you are wondering why a live review has turned in to a history lesson, it is plain and simple. This band is its history. Their songs are about their struggles. Their sound is like a freight train crashing into a steel mill. To see them perform brought a surge of memories and information, even emotion. From the opening "AH!" of "Them Bones" to the hopeless harmonies of "Down In a Hole" right to the last falsetto hum of "Rooster" I was on the edge of my seat. They played with the ferocity of 20 year olds, but the showmanship of well versed rockers who know how to pace themselves. They demonstrated that their new songs could be their old songs and their old could be their new. It doesn't matter when the song was released; it has a timeless edge to it.
They also showed their humanity. They fumbled a part of "Grind," bringing the song to a stop and made fun of themselves. The crowd didn't care, as demonstrated when the band asked if they should move along or finish. With grace and dignity, they picked it up as if nothing happened.
The crowd was a delight. Because they aren't a band that has party anthems or love power ballads, it wasn't the stereotypical audience. Everyone, for the most part, maintained their composure. The most interesting thing about the crowd was rather than chant the name of the band, they fixated on Jerry Cantrell. They would chant "Jerry!" over and over much in the same way the audience did on the Jerry Springer show.
The biggest downside was the short set list. They did not do an encore, which some may argue as a bad move, but in this day and age I think they are unnecessary, unless, of course they are spontaneous and not pre-determined. They represented their entire discography with the exception o the Sap EP. The consistency of their music makes it hard to pick which tracks to play. Although they have stand out singles, the bulk of their album cuts are just as good. I would have gladly traded in their opening acts for an extra 60 to 90 minutes of AIC.
The openers did bring value to the evening. Monster Truck, with their 70's style songs mixed with a modern intensity, set the tone, while Chevelle brought everyone into the 21st century. The audience especially took to Chevelle. This could easily have been their show if Alice In Chains were not the skilled veterans they are.