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Perseverance and Roosters: Alice In Chains at ACL Live in Austin (Review)

William Duvall (L) and Sean Kinney of Alice In Chains / Photo © Manuel Nauta
William Duvall (L) and Sean Kinney of Alice In Chains / Photo © Manuel Nauta

(Editors note: Due to the band’s management photo policy, we have been prevented from posting our best photos from the concert. )

AUSTIN, TX – April 28, 2014 / Alice In Chains has dealt with despair at the top of the platinum mountain, has tumbled down to the desolate bottom of addiction, but insists on persevering, which was evident at Monday night’s sold out show at ACL Live in Austin.   The Grunge-Sludge-Metal band out of Seattle, lead by Jerry Cantrell, has released two albums in the last five years that have reached the top five on the Billboard 200 charts.

The crowd was made up of the type of guys who turned down a high school reunion invitation or two, and ladies who never got into that girly genre of music that is pop.  For the most part, the guys stuck to the script as far as their attire was concerned.  Black t-shirts and jeans, with a few outliers wearing rings on places like their thumbs and ears.  Embellished jeans with loud stitching reared it’s ugly head in some instances.

Jerry Cantrell / Photo © Manuel Nauta
Jerry Cantrell / Photo © Manuel Nauta

Rocker chicks garb ranged from $35 AIC oversized tees to revealing tops, but with all of them wearing date-night-denim bottoms.  This was a dream shift for the bartenders at the Moody Theater, pouring shots and popping tops for a buck every twenty seconds makes for a lucrative night.  The always ready and insanely helpful security staff had a little help of their own with signs posted that said, “No heavy moshing, slam dancing or any aggressive behavior.”  Fear not ACL; most of us at this age have backs that act up and angst that let up back in 1997.

A sheer black curtain was lifted and revealed an urban jungle light setup.  Ten foot towers were covered with tattered camouflage tarp, which provided some heavy metal feng shui.

The four-piece outfit donned their instruments, and with a guttural shriek and some throat-taxing augmentation, introduced the crunchy “Them Bones.”  AIC frontman William DuVall’s rockstar persona is magnetic, and his voice moves through scales with the dexterity of an old-timey, self-playing piano.

Cantrell’s riffs played a cat and mouse game with the verse and chorus section.  Two and a half minutes was the perfect length for a song that held you captive, gave you the shakes, and had you wanting more when it was over.  DuVall, who’s filling in for the late-great Layne Staley, brings a different element to the group’s live show.  Staley was a visionary, but was an tortured artist with dark demons.  There’s no replacing this icon, so DuVall respectfully never tries to imitate, but rather intimates with his own brand of moxie.

Mike Inez / Photo © Manuel Nauta
Mike Inez / Photo © Manuel Nauta

The second song of the night happened to be the second song off 1992’s Dirt album, “Dam That River.”  Two middle-aged friends wondered aloud if AIC was going to play all of Dirt in order, track-by-track.  I wanted to offer my two cents and let them know AIC isn’t one of these band looking to trade-in nostalgia for gold; they’re still creating for our musical enjoyment.  Alas, I kept my know-it-all mouth shut and enjoyed the thumping, hook-ladened track with the rest of the lot.

“Again,” the drop D tuned, Eastern snake charming psychedelia number, featured a call and response moment that was on point and airy.  “Check My Brain” was the first cut from the AIC 2.0 reboot catalog.  Original drummer, Sean Kinney, and bassist since ’93 Mike Inez were totally engaged and this piece had a hyper-collaborative feel.  DuVall was never in the same spot on the platform for more than a few notes, ensuring everyone captured a great pic on their generational influx iPhones.

A false start gaff before “Hollow” was awkward, but forgivable as this was the third gig on a 21-stop American tour of the South and East coast.  The mid-tempo Hollow displayed harmonization and standout drum fills.  “Last of My Kind” was wah-wah and effects pedal bliss as DuVall belted out aggressive, but clear toned anti-establishment lyrics like “defeat the fucking liars/smash all the temples/and crawl through the ruble/cry to the fallen.”

The catchiest cut off their latest offering, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, “Voices,” lit up the venue as the patrons lit up their electric nicotine vaporizers and their wacky-tabacky cigarettes.  How times have changed.  “Man In The Box” released the assemblage’s remaining inhibitions.  Cantrell’s axe/talk box combo, and DuVall’s increasingly impressive lungs, laid the groundwork for the choir to overpower the band’s amplified output.  When it was time for the lyric “Shit” to be emphatically delivered, school teachers in Round Rock could be seen blushing.

Bass line borne “It Ain’t Like That,” gave fans foaming at the mouth for deep cuts the shot they needed. Acoustic pain-piped ballad “Nutshell” let introspection and shared loneliness take over.  On Kinney’s bass drum were the letters LSMS, which pays respect to fallen band members Layne Staley and Mike Starr. Music is an escape that gets your through the good and bad times, this couldn’t be more evident in DuVall’s emotive crooning and the bands mournful play.

What followed was the mellow, but not understated “No Excuses.”  Cantrell’s guitar solo during the bridge was bluesy, but optimistic.  “Your Decision” continued the softer side of the set.  Another wrong-song kink proceeded the abrasive “We Die Young”.  Headbanging, possessed lyrical chants, and haunting musicality had the venue recharged.  The low notes in “Stone” were a highlight.  Enter the emotionally pageant that is “Would?”  The epic theme of the song served as the rapture for all the loyal sinners that genuflected in front of their grunge deity’s.  Exit AIC.

Sean Kinney / Photo © Manuel Nauta
Sean Kinney / Photo © Manuel Nauta

For their penultimate act, the guitar tech’s reloaded the mic stands with more pics ensuring an encore was afoot.  “Sludge Factory” boasted a wordless vocal run that ran over notation in it’s way.  “Got Me Wrong” was sexy acoustic-lead romp that makes the feel fleeting love seem so permanent.  And for the roadies final scene, a plastic rooster Halloween mask tipped the hand of what the swan song was going to be.

Cantrell apologized for how dumb the accessory was, but he had to buy it.  He then went to dedicate the last song to his father who was at the show.  Falsetto harmonies and power chords cackled and signaled that the “Rooster” had arisen.  If you didn’t feel goosebumps – with the entire place on its feet – then you’re clinically dead.

Adversity muddies the waters of one’s calling when you stare straight at your reflection.  AIC was destined to keep creating and touring.   Peaks and valley’s of popularity are trite and meaningless when you’ve plateaued to the level of importance AIC for the faithful in attendance. Unlike their contemporaries like Soundgarden or Pearl Jam, reissuing anniversary albums isn’t in the cards for AIC; making more memories is.

Review by Donny Rodriguez

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