Monday, March 22, 2010

Alice In Chains: Black to the Brawlroom 3.20.10

The smiles said it all.

At the conclusion of their triumphant return to Chicago’s famed Aragon Ballroom, Alice In Chains core members Jerry Cantrell and Sean Kinney could hardly control themselves. As they walked from stage left to stage right and repeated, they threw out guitar pics and drum sticks and profusely thanked the sold out Aragon attendees on a cold and blustery night.

Even though it was officially the first day of spring, Mother Nature as always, had other plans. While the dropping temperatures and snow covered streets gave the city an Antarctic visage the rousing welcome Alice In Chains received tonight was about as heartwarming as it gets.

Usually the headline act in a major city who are riding high on the successful comeback trail Alice has been on, need only to “show up,” right? After all, the tickets all 4,500+ of them had been purchased many months in advance and what, at this point do they have to prove? Apparently the “what do you have to prove” memo wasn’t passed on to Alice In Chains and this was crystal clear the moment the house lights went out.

Opening with “All Secrets Known” from their chart topping 2009 album ‘Black Gives Way to Blue,’ Alice (Drummer Sean Kinney, Bassist Mike Inez, Singer/Rhythm guitarist William DuVall and Guitarist/Vocalist Jerry Cantrell) set the tone for an evening of music unparalleled by their peers or even the ghosts of the band’s past.

“It Ain’t Like That” followed and to the AIC devotee that opening riff is like nothing else. Singer William DuVall went for the throat early and eases off nothing the rest of the night. For a “new guy” I will go on record here and say I can’t imagine them without him. That’s high praise, but it’s true.

“Again” off of the self-titled album is next before the crowd is addressed. The mood is a really good one, for a band that’s made both millions of fans and dollars via hymns of death, doom and destruction there is nothing negative about the party being thrown tonight.

That vibe continues with the first single off of ‘Black…’ “Check My Brain” acting as a huge sing-a-long reverberating throughout the faux Spanish courtyard known as the Aragon. I will mention the sing-a-longs because this and many others throughout the night were fucking POWERFUL! Seriously it was these passion filled voices that made me proud to always be a fan of music and the way it moves us.
The next three songs came from their 1992 masterpiece ‘Dirt.’ “Them Bones,” “Damn That River,” and “Rain When I Die” what can you say about a trio like that? The next portion of the set was definitely mellower but no less intense with current single “Your Decision” and ‘Sap’s’ lone inclusion “Got Me Wrong.” This song in particular was not only a “deep cut” in and of it self, but featured some amazing co-vocals by Cantrell as well as excellent guitar soloing by William.

“We Die Young” and “A Looking In View” brought back the audio heavy before “Nutshell” doles out the emotional heavy. This song is a nod to Layne night in and night out and the fan reaction allows it to live and breathe in the present.

From one extreme to the next “Sickman” from ‘Dirt’ rears its ugly head, this number led by Drummer Sean Kinney and his octopus like reach, drives the off-timed multi-directional song home. I don’t think enough can be said about the man and what he adds to the power and poise behind the kit of Alice. I’ve seen drummers play his stuff before on Jerry Cantrell solo tours, etc. and while more than adequate, no one can play like Sean.

Two new songs, “Lesson Learned” and “Acid Bubble” snap the crowd back to the present and it must be mentioned how the group live has grown by leaps and bounds. The last time I saw them (read HERE) they were on the verge of releasing ‘Black Gives Way to Blue’ and road testing a few of it’s tracks. Tonight they not only perform these new songs, but by playing six of them, they built the set around them. Their intentions of being proud of the past yet living and looking to the now and beyond are what it’s about. “Acid Bubble” in particular was just fucking awe-inspiring! Jerry Cantrell remains the quintessential writer and performer and watching him song after song never gets old.

The haunting “Angry Chair” follows the not-so favorite “No Excuses,” which I will admit was not that bad in the moment, being surrounded by thousands of people singing along definitely helped. As they normally do, “Angry Chair” goes right into “Man In the Box.” William again just gave 150% and sang this song like its still fresh and uncharted territory and this is only a small reason of why he rules.

The band leaves the stage for a few minutes and come back with “Would?” and “Rooster,” another one-two punch from the ‘Dirt’ era and a great climax to an even greater show. I cannot say enough about the whole thing.

I was here at the Aragon back in 1993 for the ‘Dirt’ tour and am happy to have seen them back then because that was some great stuff, I mean it was beyond incredible. Not only the music but the vibe and the youthful intensity of it all. Tonight's performance was great as well, we're all just a little older and wiser, right?

As I mentioned earlier the band could’ve just shown up on auto-pilot and a good time would’ve been had by all. But this isn’t just any band; this is a band that judging by the smiles seems thankful for all the good coming their way.

Xtra special thanks to O.G. Frank and Adriana for always looking out!