Alice in Chains sounds just like its old self at Benedum
May 9, 2013 6:15 AM
Alice in Chains singer William DuVall at the Benedum.
By Scott Mervis Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Editor's note, posted May 9, 2013: Mentions of Sean Kinney and Mike Inez were reversed on second reference in a previous version of this online review.
The billing of Alice in Chains at the Benedum had a ring of absurdity to it.
Wasn't this the band that moved legions of fans to set bonfires on the hill at Star Lake? If you put them in the second nicest theater Downtown, would they try to burn it down, or maybe just settle for ripping the seats out of the floor?
Perhaps the only thing preventing that is that everyone is 20 years older now and they're smart enough to know that bosses tend to frown upon disorderly conduct charges. Plus, no one wants to wreck their cellphone.
Alice has changed, too. Frontman Layne Staley succumbed to the drugs that fueled the songs a decade ago. Bassist Matt Starr is gone, too, replaced long ago by Mike Inez. Their initials "LSMS" glow in the bass drum in tribute.
Most bands choose not to continue without such key elements. Nirvana wasn't going to carry on without Kurt Cobain and it's unlikely Pearl Jam ever would have replaced Eddie Vedder.
Acid Bubble (Black)
Dam That River
Check My Brain
It Ain't Like That
Got Me Wrong
Down in a Hole
Man in the Box
Guitarist Jerry Cantrell refused to let Alice go in the box, keeping the franchise alive in 2006 with the discovery of William DuVall, who sounds like Staley and looks like Lenny Kravitz.
If you closed your eyes, it was AIC in '93, with Mr. Cantrell's sludgy, oddly detuned guitar and the druggy vocals sounding like a vinyl record left on the dashboard of your car. It's the incomparable Alice sound, one even Nickelback never bothered to try and duplicate it (not that I've heard every Nickelback song, thank god).
Even the newer songs, from 2009's "Acid Bubble" and "Check My Brain" right on up to the unreleased "Hollow," sounded like the vintage stuff, which is to say that Alice in Chains does not hit you with stunning variety -- the full-on drony "Rotten Apple" being a rare exception.
The early part of the set highlighted those and such uplifting album tracks as "Down in a Hole" and "Them Bones." Mr. Cantrell, sporting a jarringly short haircut, took the lead vocal on "Got Me Wrong" and hit the floor briefly on "Again." "Rocked myself off my feet," he said.
Other than that he stayed up and nailed one narcotic solo after the next. One of the coolest was on "Stone," a track from the forthcoming "The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here."
In the last half hour, they kicked up the intensity starting with the uber-grungy "We Die Young," and then into the big radio tracks beginning with the rubbery bass line of "Would?," which had the crowd shouting along for the first time and possibly looking around for flammable objects.
Before getting to the killer tracks, Mr. Kinney stepped forward to at least shout out some curse words and apologize, sarcastically, for not having confetti cannons. "We'll have to step up our game next time," he said. They also teased Raiders fan Inez about the Immaculate Reception.
Then, the polite crowd got what it paid for in a blistering version of "Man in the Box," a warped "No Excuses" and super-sized treatment of "Rooster" that had to have shaken the whole Cultural District.
If you ever wondered who the Rooster was, he was there -- it's Jerry Cantrell's dad, who came out and waved to the crowd. Long live the Rooster.