ALICE IN CHAINS
POWER SURGE RAMPAGE
Touring in support of their first album in five years, “Rainier Fog”, Alice in Chains’ North American Tour touched down at the intimate Hollywood Palladium for a night of sheer rock euphoria. This highly anticipated show is one of many on their first major tour since 2013. The opening act, The Pink Slips, whetted the crowd’s appetite with an hour-long set of carnal punk-infused pop-rock mania as Grace McKagan (19 yr old daughter of GnR bassist Duff McKagan) writhed and squirmed salaciously while her band provided ample soundtrack to her bloodthirsty theatrics. For a band relatively new to the game, The Pink Slips already boast an impressive gigography, from playing at the Viper Room’s 21st birthday show to two CBGB Festival appearances, and a slot at Download Festival. They ended their set with the super hooky, foot stomping tune “Trigger.”
It wasn’t long after the P.S. exited stage left that the ravenous, hardcore AIC fanatics (me being one of ‘em) started closing in on the edge of the stage, jockeying for position to get close the fire and fury of Cantrell’s mesmerizing guitar pyrotechnics. As the house lights dimmed the fog machines began to cast their dreamy spell working in tandem with the high tech light-show filling the stage with ethereal, atmospheric visuals. In the moments before the band hit the stage the tension was palpable. The opening strains of “Check My Brain” started moments before the band exploded onto the stage with Cantrell saying emphatically, “This is for you guys!.” The crowd’s fist-pumping support and chanting approval were infectious.
In the patchwork quilt of rock band lineage, Alice in Chains is a slightly frayed fabric of brilliant color and exquisite texture. They erupted onto the national alternative scene in the ’90s alongside hall-of-fame, Grunge makes Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden. There has always been a contingent of fans who argue that Alice in Chains at its peak was better than any of those bands. Agreed! Albums such as “Dirt”, its 1995 self-titled record, and its MTV Unplugged appearance provided ample evidence for their case. Still, for all its successes, Alice in Chains, much like Nirvana, are irrevocably intertwined with tragedy. In April 2002, former lead singer and frontman Layne Staley was found dead in his condo from a drug overdose. In 2011, drugs also claimed the life of bassist Mike Starr. By that time, the band had found a second life with vocalist William DuVall, a veteran singer/songwriter from Atlanta and founder of alt-rock outfit Come With the Fall.
“New” vocalist DuVall has grown into his role admirably since officially joining the band in 2008. Since then, Alice in Chains has released two records: “Black Gives Way to Blue” (2008) and “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here” (2013). Although he sounds remarkably like Staley, he is not merely an impersonator; DuVall has his own style and an energy that translates remarkably well on stage.
Then there’s guitar impresario Jerry Cantrell, whose understated style and verve is a thing of raw beauty and a joy to behold. After giving shout-outs to all the band members, Cantrell dedicated “Nutshell” to his missing friends and bandmates, Staley and Starr. Even after all these years, the standout cut from the critically acclaimed “Jar of Flies” EP is able to break hearts with its dark lyrics of desperation and isolation. One would like to think that Staley would have been proud of the way the band he founded has preserved the spirit of the song long after his death.
One thing I couldn’t help noticing was the group’s undeniable enthusiasm, energy, and sincere desire to put their best sonic foot forward for the fans. Bassist Mike Inez was bobbing and weaving all over the stage with a permanent shit-eating grin on his face and Cantrell was feeding off the crowd’s overwhelming response when he waved his hands to signal audience participation. He and Inez also engaged in entertaining bouts of hair whipping/head-banging frenzy. The unique command of touch and tone Cantrell possesses puts him into a select group of guitar slingers who never fail to amaze. His signature, go-to “Blue Dress” guitar says it all with the words ROCK-ROCK-ROCK emblazoned on the body.
More than twenty years ago Cantrell bought his first G&L® Rampage while working at a Dallas music store. Little did the world know that, through his work with Alice in Chains, the Rampage would be the instrument used to define the music of an entire generation. Today, Jerry’s Rampage is affectionately known by his fans as the “Blue Dress” guitar. Its nickname comes from an image of a vintage pin-up girl wearing a blue dress, which Jerry taped to the top of his guitar. The “Blue Dress” image was originally published in an issue of Oui magazine and was created by Alain Aslan, a world-renowned French painter, and sculptor, whose work was seen in magazines such as Lui and Oui. Fun factoid: AIC got its name thusly: The story as Jerry Cantrell tells it, Layne Staley was the member of a band with a friend of his and they would play at drag shows in Seattle. The two (Staley and his friend) decided they needed a name for their band so they could be more recognizable. They wanted two words for their band; one to be a soft word and one to be a hard word. Since they were playing at drag shows the name Alice was mentioned as a soft name word and then the word Chains for the hard music that they played; Alice in Chains.
The nearly 2-hour show was capped off with special guest guitarist Robby Kreiger from the legendary band The Doors on the crushing, grunge metal classic “Rooster.” A memorable night of heavy, hypnotic hard rock.
CHECK MY BRAIN
DAMN THAT RIVER
DOWN IN A HOLE
WE DIE YOUNG
IT ANI’T LIKE THAT
SO FAR UNDER
MAN IN THE BOX
THE ONE YOU KNOW
GOT ME WRONG
ROOSTER (w Robby Krieger)