Review: ‘Alice In Chains’ – Birmingham O2 Academy



Anyone who says “grunge is dead” is wrong on general principle. Alice In Chains demonstrated exactly why tonight at the O2 Academy in Birmingham.
Taking their first record in fourteen years on the road, tragically devoid of their late frontman Layne Staley, the Seattle survivors made their second stop on the UK leg of the tour.

For a band that’s been going since the late eighties, the audience tonight doesn’t even slightly tread into AC/DC territory: whose pre-historic loyalists would gawk blankly at the mention of La Roux, Spotify or Twitter. Middle-aged Gen-X-ers who’ve dusted off the flannel mingle with coming of age grunge kids who grumble about having two ‘Alice In Chains’ artists on their iPods: Alice in Chains / Alice In Chains. Don’t you just hate when that happens?

However diverse the crowd, tonight’s support act couldn’t have been more out of place if it was Timbaland’s name in the liner notes of a Chris Cornell album. Oh wait. Indie two-piece Little Fish showed plenty of promise. They kept the banter to a minimum but were tireless onstage in an attempt to win over the angry mob. In spite of their best efforts, however, this was a public execution. The guillotine arrived in the form of a torrent of unwarranted heckling. Credit to Little Fish; they soldiered on to the end of their short set, displaying a lot of technical prowess and kept a brave face whilst never choking under the pressure.

The war torn ‘Chains took to stage at last, opening with ‘It Ain’t Like That’. Being only one of two tracks representing the debut, ‘Facelift’, the reaction was cathartic. Jerry’s derailing riffage continued through ‘Again’ and the skull-splintering ‘Them Bones’. The mosh-pits opened up like the heavens outside as the voice of the new frontman William DuVall commanded from his pulpit; drooping over the crowd with menacing zeal in his eyes. There was no extra-terrestrial lasers, pyrotechnics or spectacular visuals. Alice In Chains have always been a bread and butter band in the live setting, relying on the songs and the dedication of the fans. You could feel the mutual adoration between Alice and their followers tonight.

Dam That River’ really gave the rhythmic pairing of bassist Mike Inez and drummer Sean Kinney the chance to shine; like a double uppercut to the throat. Plastic cups of lager soared, never failing to get the timeless reaction from the unlucky receivers. By the time Jerry et all applied the brakes for what fans are calling the new ‘Nutshell’, ‘Your Decision’, the place reeked of sweat and beer-soaked hair; always the sign of a good time. The amp’s breather was then rudely interrupted by the nauseous, off-colour fret crunching of ‘Check My Brain’, gaining a rapturous response from the crowd in full voice for the chorus: “California’s all right, somebody check my brain!”

New album ‘Black Gives Way to Blue’ was further aired in the skin crawling epic ‘A Looking In View’. William and Jerry’s dual lead vocals were just startling here. Heavier than a ten tonne truck and slithering at a snail’s pace, it’s a performance Layne himself would have been proud of. No song on the night was more appropriate than ‘Rain When I Die’ as the downpour outside continued. But it was when the boys broke for an acoustic interlude that things began to just feel surreal. ‘Down In A Hole’ got the onslaught of anthems underway, followed by ultra-rare live outings for ‘Heaven Beside You’ and ‘Got Me Wrong’, which gained one of the loudest responses of the night. The title track of the latest album provided a truly touching moment as the tearful song, dedicated to the memory of Layne was capped off with an image of the fallen icon being shown on the screen behind the band. ‘Acid Bubble’ was up next, one song which far outshines the studio version live. Fluctuating from brooding verses to demonic refrains, it’s like an unending nightmare, sitting alongside ‘Sludge Factory’ as a masterpiece of Alice’ back catalogue.

The crowds’ chants of “Rooster! Rooster! Rooster” were subdued by Jerry for the second time, laughingly retorting “We’ll get to that!” In good spirits, the band bantered with the audience, whilst apologising for a few unnoticeable sound problems. Crowd surfers began to be ejected like lemmings as a few were launched into other fans, something William and Jerry tried to tame as they progressed through ‘God Am’. The anthems again came thick and fast before the encore as the haunting, Layne-written ‘Angry Chair’ and the rip-roaring signature ‘Man In The Box’ brought about a deafening reaction.

After returning with newbie ‘Lesson Learned’ it was ‘Would?’ where the crowd completely drowned out DuVall. Then came the closer, what pretty much all the non-diehards had been waiting for: ‘Rooster’. It couldn’t have been capped off more perfectly as the crowd swayed arm in arm, echoing Will and Jerry’s harmonies, backlit by a video about the songs entire meaning of Jerry’s father’s experience of Vietnam. Moving from mobiles-in-the-air chapters to thunderous mosh-inducing bridges, it was an amazing finale. Before departing one last time, the band threw their entire arsenal into the crowd, as foragers devoured the floor in hope of getting a pick, or even better, catching Sean’s drumstick. I was lucky enough to catch one of Cantrell’s picks, an ideal memoir of a great gig. Welcome back boys, the UK’s missed you.

(Daniel Robinson)

Set List

It Ain’t Like That
Them Bones
Dam That River
Your Decision
No Excuses
Check My Brain
A Looking In View
Rain When I Die

Down In A Hole
Heaven Beside You
Got Me Wrong
Black Gives Way To Blue

Acid Bubble
God Am
Angry Chair
Man In The Box

Lesson Learned

Alice in Chains on Later Live performing “Check My Brain” 11/11/09

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One Response

  1. Bob Pure 16 November, 2009

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