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Alice in Chains

Date: 9/15/18
Venue: Comerica Theatre, Phoenix, AZ
Report By: Jack Mangan


Let’s start off with praise for William DuVall.
In case you don’t know: Alice in Chains were one of the biggest Metal/Grunge/Alternative/Rock n’ Roll bands of the 1990s, but would suffer the devastating loss and eventual death of original lead singer, Layne Staley, following years of self-destruction and drug use. They closed up shop for a few after 1998, but DuVall joined Alice in Chains for their rebirth in 2006, and has shared vocal duties with founding guitarist, Jerry Cantrell ever since. He’s been featured on their last three studio albums, “Black Gives Way to Blue,” “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here,” and 2018’s “Rainier Fog.”

But those albums really don’t showcase what a great singer and performer he is; Alice in Chains fans only truly get a sense of his considerable talent seeing him live in concert. His style is almost nothing at all like Staley’s, so the older songs really get a makeover with him alone on the mic - - not better, usually not worse, just different. And even though he’s his own man, the vocal sections when he harmonizes with Cantrell - - on the old as well as the new material - - invoke the ghost of Alice in Chains’ past, when Staley was in that spot. DuVall also has some chops on the guitar, and an energetic, Lenny Kravitz-reminiscent stage presence (no, not just fucking because they’re both African-American).

Long-time fans with misgivings about this new era should bury their trepidations and get out and see this new incarnation live. It’s not exactly the same as their glory days - - of course not - - but it’s still Cantrell, founding drummer Sean Kinney, and since-1993-bassist Mike Inez, and it’s still a night of classic Metal tunes, along with some good new ones. For this tour, there was very little in the way of stage imagery, effects, special lighting, etc.; it’s just the band, the music, and the fans.

Alice in Chains definitely have some legacy issues, though, due to the incredible heights of and jarring changes from their storied past. The Comerica Theatre crowd collectively lost their mind for every 90s tune, even the mediocre strummer, “Nutshell” (which admittedly sounded great and provided an outlet for some juicy Cantrell guitar solos), but the reception for the latter-day stuff was decidedly more subdued and polite. Only “Check My Brain” (the opening song) and “Not the One You Know” (the first of the encore set) were met with the same fanatical enthusiasm as the classics. Fans were excited for the new stuff - - don’t get me wrong - - but not with the same deafening madness that erupted for the hits. It didn’t help that AiC’s performances on “Stone” (from The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here) and “Red Giant” (from Rainier Fog) were kind of lackluster. Both are good songs on record, but were somewhat off on this night. Their only other underwhelming play was, sadly, for one of their all-time greats, “Got Me Wrong.” I don’t know what went wrong - - maybe it just works better acoustic than electric. The rest of the songs in the set were live brilliance, and well worth the price of admission, including: “Them Bones,” “Again,” “Man in the Box,” “Would?”, finale “Rooster,” and Rainier Fog new classic, “So Far Under.”

Three final thoughts:
Jerry Cantrell is a living fucking legend. He and this band deserve to be in the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame and the Hall of Heavy Metal History one day.
Jerry Cantrell and Alice in Chains have always been reverent of their departed friend and compatriot, Layne Staley, but his absence was glaring on this tour. No pictures, no mentions. I don’t think he’s being disrespected or forgotten; I just think they’re moving forward.
I’ve heard from a number of people now that Alice in Chain aren’t Heavy Metal. . . These guys were highlights of Headbangers Ball on MTV long before Grunge was a thing. They’ve certainly always been an adventurous band, playing fast and loose with styles and genre boundaries - - but Alice in Chains are now and have always been Metal to the core.

Alice in Chains setlist:
Check My Brain
Never Fade
Them Bones
Dam That River
Down in a Hole
No Excuses
We Die Young
Red Giant
So Far Under
Angry Chair
Man in the Box
The One You Know
Got Me Wrong

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