REVIEW: Alice In Chains concert, Melbourne, Australia

Palais Theatre, St Kilda, February 26 2009.

The last time Alice In Chains toured Australia, I was still in high school and lived 4 hours away from the nearest capital city. The circumstances required for me to see them live were alarmingly insurmountable, and even after I moved to the big smoke and was geographically and economically able to see them, the tragic death of singer Layne Staley seemed to spell a permanent impasse to my ever witnessing them live. Jerry Cantrell has been one of my favourite players ever since I was about 14, so I was ultra-excited to be able to finally see him live.

Now, of course, Comes With The Fall vocalist William DuVall has taken up the front-and-centre position on stage, and within the first song of the night I’m sure anyone with lingering doubts about his place in the band had resolved to shut the hell up and just get on with having their socks rocked off. DuVall also provides rhythm guitar on certain key tracks, and is a very capable player.

I’ve heard reports from those who saw Alice In Chains back in the day that they were a less-than-inspiring live act, with dull stage presentation and sleepy musical delivery. How much of this is true I can’t really say, but the band who appeared on stage at the Palais last night were energetic and powerful, and certainly knew how to work a crowd. The set list included, but was not limited to, Angry Chair, Man In The Box (third song in!), Rain When I Die, Love Hate Love, Them Bones, Would? Rooster, No Excuses, Dirt, Junkhead and We Die Young.

In the years between Alice In Chains’ first incarnation and 2009, guitarist Jerry Cantrell seems to have picked up a more cultured, controlled vibrato, and was able to nail accurately-pitched bends with a confidence I don’t recall hearing in previous performances. Naturally it stands to reason that one’s playing will develop and evolve over a given time span, so this should come as no surprise, but the Jerry Cantrell on stage last night seemed to go that extra step beyond what the Jerry Cantrell of 1993 was capable of in terms of phrasing, dynamics and all out rock power. By the way, Cantrell still uses his original old G&L Rampage, as well as a few other Rampages, and some Gibson Les Pauls.

Mike Inez was, as always, a very solid player, keeping the sound full and powerful on any of the single-guitar songs in which Cantrell took solos. He seemed to be smiling all night, and locked in perfectly with drummer Sean Kinney’s behind-the-beat-yet-perfectly-in-time playing. Incidentally, I’m not sure how but Kinney has managed to not age one day since 1993. Dude must be into some kind of freaky age-defying voodoo.

Finally, special mention must be made of the band’s trademark vocal harmonies. Longtime fans of the band are surely well aware that Jerry Cantrell’s harmonies and backing vocals (and occasional lead vocal lines such as in the verses for Grind and Would?) were always an important part of the band’s sound. Well, despite the swapping of Staley for DuVall, Alice In Chains still sounds like Alice In Chains, and a big reason for that is that Jerry is still singing too. This is certainly not like in the case of Van Halen where the whole sound of any back catalogue songs changed when Sammy Hagar stepped into David Lee Roth’s gig.

If you haven’t seen the new version of Alice In Chains because you’re sceptical about whether they can hold it together and live up to their legacy, it’s time to put aside such concerns and check them out. Of course they’ll never be the same without Layne, but last night’s performance was a powerful demonstration that the Alice In Chains of 2009 deserves to be spoken of in the same reverential tones as the Alice In Chains of the 90s.

9 Replies to “REVIEW: Alice In Chains concert, Melbourne, Australia”

  1. I got into AIC from a friend who lived for a year in Seattle while his parents lectured over there. He came back the year before the whole grunge scene exploded. He came back with Green River, AIC, Soundgarden, Mudhonney, Screaming Trees, Nirvana and more.

    Funnily enought, it was Soundgarden and AIC that got me straight away and it had nothing to do with the guitars. It was the vocals. Chris Cornell’s voice was captivating, and AIC harmonies were just hypnotic. There was something so much more musical about these bands compared to the rest of the grunge scene and I think that is why they are still remembered and loved so much.

  2. I always hate to see people cast off AiC as a mediocre grunge band. Far from it! I’ve grown up listening to their stuff (I was singing the Rooster when I was 3 years old when it first came out, thanks to my dad). Just good, solid music. Cantrell is an artist and a master at his craft.

  3. I completely agree, last nights show was mind blown. I was one of the skeptics! Not anymore, they were incredible!!!

  4. Great review dude (although they didnt play Grind for what its worth).

    DuVall blew me away. I’ve got a DVD bootleg from 06 at the Rock AM Ring Festival and while he sounded reasonably ok on it, he looked terribly uncomfortable (granted in front of around 60,000 German metal heads!) and had zero presence. He has really grown into the role and sounded incredible last night. It cant be easy singing some of those lyrics, particularly with how Layne ended up. But he paid every single vocal part complete respect and somehow managed to stay true to how Layne sung them without ever sounding like he was mimicking.

    They all sounded great. The power was immense and being someone who did see them in their hay day in 93, it kinda hurts me to say that the AIC i saw last night killed the drugged up lazy one i saw in 93 in terms of performance, energy and professionalism.

    Really glad i was there to see it last night.


  5. oops, my bad, I was listening to Grind as I wrote the review. I’m at Soundwave right now, seeing alive in chains again in 30 minutes, woo! I’ll edit the review later when I’m not rocking out to lacuna coil.

  6. I have followed AIC for 17 odd years and i can tell you that the show was an experience that i will treasure as i thought it was all over once Layne died. The power, intensity, and emotion will live with me forever.Duvall was spot on vocally and the sound of the band was tight.I found myself chokeing up on numerous occasions, hearing and seeing the band i have followed for so long but never thought i would see. I await their return, long live Alice In Chains!! Cheers, Chris

  7. I was sad that they didn’t play Grind – I had it on a promo tape that I woke up to every morning in year 12.

    DuVall was great. I hope he finds his own voice a little more in the new album.

  8. I too saw them in Sydney in 93 and it still ranks as one of most enjoyable shows I have ever seen. I listen to AIC most days and was a little worried DuVall couldn’t live up to the legacy of Staley. How wrong could I be. The show was great, DuVall certainly has more energy than Staley and his voice really suited the AIC catalogue. Only gripe was they didn’t played Bleed the Freak. Looking forward to the new album. Great show and great reviews here, well done.

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