I walked into the Eagles Ballroom/Rave in Milwaukee a bit apprehensive. I was about to see Alice In Chains live for the first time since September 1993. While I’ve been a long time fan/follower of their career this would be my first time seeing Alice proper with William DuVall at the mic. As much as I love and have loved the band I stayed away from their earlier stops through Chicago as well as their support slot on the Velvet Revolver tour of, well, whenever that was.
Sure, I’d seen him (DuVall) on a few Jerry Cantrell solo tours in the early 2000’s where ample Alice material had been played and duly conquered, but this was going to be different. For most people, Alice In Chains ceased to exist when the body of Layne Staley was discovered in 2002. This following several years of laying low, really low due to a destructive drug habit plaguing the vocalist. Even though they hadn’t performed as AIC since 1996, for many there was always a glimmer of hope they would return.
Similar to the music of the band these rays of hope tried to fight their way through the darkness, but very often these same rays were viewed from the bottom of the ocean after the waves of life came crashing down upon you. When Layne was hit by that final wave it not only took him but the band as well, or so we thought.
So we’re in Milwaukee, it’s a Sunday night, there’s no support band clogging up the vibe and the anticipation is killing me…. so let’s just get it on!
Lights go down and the front three of DuVall, Cantrell and Bassist Mike Inez saunter out, cool, calm and collected. Drummer Sean Kinney takes his place behind his drum kit and some feedback rumbling begins as they open with “Rain When I Die” off the ‘Dirt’ LP. Right off the bat the sound is massive!
The ballroom stage is huge, the crowd is vast and the music just lays perfectly still in the air. When Cantrell breaks into the wah-wah infused leads it hits me, no one plays like this anymore, no one. His sound and body language reverberates those of a man finally free after his own hibernation of sorts. This is fucking great!
“Again” off the 1995 self-titled album is up next and there’s nothing at all wrong in the world. A quicker pace of a song has DuVall on fire. He’s doing the unexpected in my mind of truly honoring Staley’s work as well as making them his own, at least just for the night. The only time I ever heard this song live was on shitty bootlegs, it’s great to hear it in the now!
Next up was the first single for the upcoming ‘Black Gives Way To Blue’, “Check My Brain”. If you’ve heard the song or seen the video you already know it’s classic Alice. Hooky, heavy, catchy and everything that’s currently MIA in modern rock music. While the crowd reaction wasn’t exactly feverish for this or the other two new songs played (“A Looking In View” and “Acid Bubble”) this is quite understandable as a) they technically haven’t even been released and b) they’re surrounded by songs the majority of the crowd grew up with. I say give it a few months after the record hits, these songs kill live!
“Them Bones”, “Damn That River”, “We Die Young” all followed, all crushed, all were taken to new heights by AIC 2009, this trio of songs just sounded so fucking alive and those in attendance obviously felt the same way, a lot of singing, a lot of happy faces made Milwaukee the place to be this Sunday evening.
The next few songs essentially cemented what I’m still feeling several days later. In my head, I had several “tests” for the band based on a few of my favorite songs. I wondered if they’d not only pull them off they way I hoped, but would they move me? “Nutshell” and “Love, Hate, Love” were two such songs. These two in particular have Layne all over them, not just the recordings but the songs down to their core help exemplify what Layne Staley contributed to the soundtrack of my life. I’m serious here when I say they exceeded every one of my expectations on every level. It was that good.
A deep cut from the self-titled album, “God Am” was a surprise, brutal people, fucking brutal. William played a decent amount of guitar live and let me tell you, a thicker wall of sound just couldn't be found. Between Cantrell's dual vocals and the twin axe attack the stakes have been raised considerably. Another new track was followed by the haunting ‘Angry Chair’ and then a hefty 1-2 punch of ‘modern rock radio hitz’ “Man In The Box” and “Would?” Yes, we've all heard these songs more than we care to admit, but when the band and audience are on fire it's impossible not to soak it in. These two songs got the biggest reactions, without a doubt, and it didn't bother this jaded bastard one bit.
The band left the stage for a few minutes and came back for encores. "It Ain't Like That", easily one of my favorite Alice tracks was played and I'm going to sound like a broken record, but DuVall killed, nailed, hit a home run whatever analogy you want to liken his performance to, he did it! "No Excuses" and "Rooster" closed the show on what was a stellar evening of music.
Special thanks to Mike (MJOB, Mikey, Mikey Boy, Sir Laze-a-Lot) for leaving his couch for the night!