Alice In Chains at Bayou Music Center, 4/29/2014
Composing an Alice In Chains review is little more than an exercise in how many synonyms the writer can think of for "heavy," because every last one of them applies. But as a band whose history is as tied up in addiction, death and renewal as theirs, their real strength is how they understand the power of catharsis like few others. The veteran Seattle rockers, almost derailed by original singer Layne Staley's overdose-related 2002 demise, have a catalog that plumbs the depths of despair and frustration to forge thickly armored parables of perseverance.
Tuesday night at Bayou Place, it took on the form of Jerry Cantrell's arsenal of pulverizing riffs, brought to bear by the hurricane-force heavy lifting of bassist Mike Inez and drummer Sean Kinney and articulated by singer William DuVall. Strolling about the stage, often standing on the monitors, Duvall's mobility was a stark contrast to the monolithic, imposing sounds around him, made even more foreboding by the band's prison-towers stage set.
It's now been long enough, ten-plus years and two albums, that Staley's death does not seem to haunt Alice In Chains anymore. Coming out blazing with "Them Bones," "Dam That River," "Again," "Check My Brain" and "Hollow," the band cranked from the start with tactile, body-blow riffs with just a touch of sensuality that suggested things may not be as bleak as they seem. And for a first-timer, the way Cantrell and DuVall's voices would intertwine throughout various verses and choruses, it was difficult to guess that Alice In Chains had ever had another singer.
Every so often the mood would lighten somewhat, usually with the aid of an acoustic guitar, as on "No Excuses" or "Voices," a new one from last year's The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here that attempts to sort out the conflicting personas inside the singer's head. (Considering the previous five songs had been all been about being dead inside, more or less, it was progress.) Saying something like, "we like to butcher a classic every night," DuVall and Cantrell also teased the audience with bits of the Rolling Stones' "Parachute Woman" and ZZ Top's "Mexican Blackbird." And they led the happy-to-oblige audience in singing "Happy Birthday" to their drum tech.
The visceral joy of seeing Alice live, I think, lies in being worked over like a heavy bag during the early parts of the songs, and then being granted a great relief by their cloud-parting choruses. Tuesday it worked that way on "It Ain't Like That," "Down In a Hole," "Man In the Box" and a number of others, and usually ended with most of the crowd's arms in the air. Others, like "Last of My Kind," were even more cut and dried about Cantrell and crew's longevity plans. It ended with the full-on metal assault of "We Die Young," primordial Dinosaurs cut "Stone" and Singles soundtrack standout "Would?" (God bless Mike Inez), whose closing chords resembled nothing so much as an 18-wheeler downshifting less than smoothly from about 75mph into "park."
Review continues on the next page.