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Alice In Chains In Concert 2013: A Looking-In View

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Alice In Chains by ADF
A mightily focussed Alice In Chains slightly in focus

On Tuesday when Alice In Chains releases their fifth album, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here (Virgin), nearly four years will have passed since their resurrection for 2009’s Black Gives Way To Blue. Their second with singer William Duvall, Dinosaurs is a key entry in the Alice In Chains history, one bearing new questions about one of America’s great bands — and bearing new answers to ones still lingering from the relaunch of the AIC identity a few years ago. 

To get those answers, we peeked in on Jerry Cantrell and crew last week at the Milwaukee date of their kinda random small-market May tour. (They’re back in big city arenas for the Fashionable Jacket Festival Uproar Festival in August.) What follows is an investigation and a sorta incidental review. Read:

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Duvall (left), Cantrell by Daniel DeSlover
“And if you’re gaaay/Well, I love u anywaaay”: Duvall (left), Cantrell by Daniel DeSlover

QUESTION Black Gives Way To Blue was hailed euphorically by metal people. But do hardcore AIC fans love it?

CONCLUSION Yeah. Think back: To a fan, Black was a dicey proposition. Absent founding singer Layne Staley, could an Alice In Chains record actually sound like an Alice In Chains record? Tough one. Sure, a casual, baggage-free listener could value Black, an instant classic of pop-doom and pained optimism, but of devoted followers, a singer change asks a lot — and so does the passage of 14 years between albums. Maybe novelty and relief carried that hardcore contingent, cuz during each of Black’s three jamz, the show vibe was awesome (“Check My Wang,” “Acid Bubble,” and one more [below]). Wildly heartwarming was the massive ovation for Duvall during band intros; concertgoers seemed to recognize his thankless task and undemanding vibe.

In Duvall, there is no confrontation, no I’m-not-him-Get-used-to-it cliché. Instead, Duvall conveys empathetic ownership and the allowance that, yes, AIC’s catalogue of junky’s despair might sound funny when sung by a disciplined, fit hunk. Maybe his acknowledgement of that is just him being a good dude. Maybe it’s cuz like me, he is quietly sure that his consistency, awesome voice, and hugely important guitaring can propel AIC beyond the heights of their Layne era.

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Duvall by Daniel DeSlover

QUESTION It was announced three days before this show that Alice In Chains had been engaged in a legal dispute with the mother of Layne Staley. Do they seem bummed?

Nope. Around L.A., Jerry Cantrell is a friendly dude who mixes with the common rabble. (He sweetly saved me from a certain faceplant at Steel Panther a couple summers ago Thanks buddy!) But even for him, Cantrell was super cuddly on stage Wednesday night. He bantered hilariously with drummer Sean Kinney, admitted to a contact high (“Smells like home! haha”), and his soloing was totally spiritual. In his extended run to close “Nutshell” I think, a really tasty phrase of his generated a roar from the cluster of fans at his feet; surprised, Cantrell abruptly looked up from his guitar with an expression of unvarnished joy. And why not. Let’s face it: After a lot of bad drama, his band has cut loose from Staley’s albatross. We miss Staley, but not the false starts, missed assignments, and heartbreak. But that shit is over. History. And Cantrell still lives, still smiles, and still makes powerful music. I am so happy for him.

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QUESTION The Layne-themed Black Gives Way To Blue was deep. Will The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here be so inspired?

Cantrell by Daniel DeSlover

Whew! The hardest part is done — Alice In Chains is back and awesome. But now they must again ascend the dreaded Mt. Sophomore Album, draw on a source of relatable theme and tone, and riff nastily and originally. (Vince Neilstein on that here.) Their success at this is important to how we rearview Black: If AIC reaches the mountaintop, then all is well. If they stumble, then Black may start to seem like a classic whose excellence required a decade and a personal cataclysm for its creators. Or worse, Black might seem like a lucky shot by a band locked in a Sisyphean deathmatch with the forces of nature. So, anyway, in Milwaukee how did the new jamz sound among AIC’s old and very old jamz?

Awesome!

Okay, I rush to point out that the songs’ finer points were lost in the concert setting. The sound was crappy. (Over and over, it wasn’t until a song’s guitar solo or quiet passage that I’d discover I’d been mishearing what key we were in. lol) Regardless, “Stone” and “Hollow” stomped, as did monster set-closer “Phantom Limb” omg. Some Layne superhits (“Down In A Hole,” “Again”) sagged to a tempo suited to, like, almost balladry; but the three new jamz, and highlights “It Ain’t Like That” and the aching “Your Decision,” would make any live collection on any planet in any year — they raged. So although Dinosaur‘s fate is unknown for now, next week we all can purchase with confidence. With that thought firm in mind, I concluded my investigation and doobed out to an all-classics encore: “Rooster,” “Man In The Box,” and “Would?” during which I giggled about dialogue from that movie Singles. Case closed.

More Alice In Chains dates here. Pre-order The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here here and here. Hear hear!

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