Alice in Chains
Fillmore Miami Beach
Thursday, April 25, 2013
Better Than: Well, The Essential Alice in Chains.
"C'mon, it's the first gig ..." Alice in Chains axe man Jerry Cantrell deadpanned when he and his band screwed up the opening bars of "Down in a Hole," a 20-year-old top ten hit. "Fuck."
Last night, Cantrell and crew kicked off their latest U.S. road trip at the Fillmore Miami Beach after a few years away from the rock circuit, following the release (and subsequent tour) of 2008's Black Gives Way to Blue. And aside from the "Hole" miscue, there weren't any "big mistakes."
Every seat in the house that Jackie Gleason built had been sold. And with the mood set by a rock radio mix of Audioslave and other early-2000s alt-lite sorta stuff, several thousand Alice in Chains superfans were slobbering for some "real fucking rock," as a guy in a Dirt t-shirt could be heard hollering.
So when Cantrell, founding drummer Sean Kinney, longtime bassist Mike Inez, and new-ish singer William DuVall emerged from the Fillmore's shadowy backstage, the assembled mob saluted them by throwing devil horns and raising lukewarm beers.
Now, stating the obvious, original Alice in Chains singer Layne Staley is dead.
But admittedly, even 11 years later, it's tough to watch (and listen to) Cantrell and crew, live in concert, without drifting off and dwelling on Staley's slow, sad spiral into death. Especially because the most compelling songs remain those alt anthems written, recorded, and released at the apex of the grunge era, when he was still alive.
The band endured a six-year hiatus, from 1996 to 2002, while Staley did speedballs and played video games till he slipped into the grave. And even though the new Alice in Chains has made nearly as many albums (2008's aforementioned Blue and the new Devil Put Dinosaurs Here) as the original Alice in Chains, it was obvious the Miami fans had bought tickets to hear the Alice classics.
Appropriately then, the band led with "Them Bones," "Dam That River," and "Rain When I Die," all off 1992's Dirt. It was an honest concession to the reality that Alice in Chains has "seen better days."
Sure, talking recently to Guitar World, Cantrell has argued: "In my opinion, [Black Gives Way to Blue] stood up to anything else we've put out in our career. And this new one [The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here] is right up there as well."
But all night, newer songs like 2008's "Check My Brain" or even 2012 mainstream rock number-one "Hollow" still simply served as buffers between '90s hits.
And yeah, the '90s hits ("It Ain't Like That," "Got Me Wrong," "Would?") were surprisingly solid. Enough to pack the Fillmore. Enough to keep the assembled mob howling through the full 75 minutes of Alice in Chains' show. And even enough to momentarily resurrect rock's last great phase, grunge.
Obviously, Cantrell, Kinney, and Inez have been doing the job for decades. And even if he doesn't possess the same wrecked junkie glamor as Layne Staley (opting instead for a more polished rock look, i.e. a black tee, leather jacket, and a finely coiffed 'do), the band's new-ish singer, William DuVall, is remarkably adept at mimicking his predecessor's decadent, nasal croon.
You know, with Alice in Chains, there isn't much bullshit bombast either.
Despite the fact that the band's almost 30 years into its career and two of four founding members are no longer living (bassist Mike Starr also OD-ed in 2011), Cantrell and crew are alive.
Sure, the new songs lack the slithering melodies and volatility of the Layne Staley stuff. But the Alice guys have stayed punk as fuck.
Just take the encore ...
After letting the lights go out, then disappearing into the darkness, Alice in Chains reemerged after three minutes of the most frenzied screeching that we've ever heard at the Fillmore Miami Beach.
And drummer Sean Kinney's quip: "That was the old phony encore trick! I bet you never seen that one before! Actually, I had to piss! That's what it was all about!
"Piss, encore -- it's all the same."
The crowd: Rock fans between the ages of 29 and 51, wearing concert tees through the decades, from the '60s (Grateful Dead) to the '70s (Led Zeppelin), the '80s (Napalm Death), the '90s (Alice in Chains, obviously), and 2000s (System of a Down).
Alice in Chains' Setlist:
-"Dam That River"
-"Rain When I Die"
-"Check My Brain"
-"It Ain't Like That"
-"Got Me Wrong"
-"Last of My Kind"
-"Down in a Hole"
-"We Die Young"
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-"Man in the Box"