It’s hard to believe Alice in Chains v. 2.0 has been around for half a decade now. And on Friday, the resurgent Seattle metal gods returned home for the third time in just over a year, an event that market the latest phase in their improbable comeback.
In 2005, the band’s surviving members resurfaced for a star-studded South Asian tsunami benefit at Seattle rock club, the Premier (a venue since renamed Showbox SoDo.) Later that year, they tapped singer-guitarist William DuVall to fill in for fallen front man Layne Staley, who died in 2002 of an apparent drug overdose.
Going on after the passing of an iconic singer can come across as cynically cashing in (see also: Ray Manzarek’s Doors 21s Century and post-reality show INXS.) But Alice fans have thus far glommed onto the charismatic DuVall, whose vocals meld seamlessly with Alice’s trademark harmonies. And after months spent packing theaters as they toured in support of last year’s comeback album, “Black Gives Way to Blue,” there was just one logical next step – head back onto the arena circuit to recapture a bit of the glory the band experienced when grunge was king.
Alice didn’t draw as many fans to KeyArena on Friday night as a typical stop by grunge peers, Pearl Jams, perhaps the result of playing this market too many times in one album cycle. But it was still good to see the band – also singer-guitarist Jerry Cantrell, drummer Sean Kinney and bassist Mike Inez – soaking up the adoration of 8,000-plus cheering, fist-pumping fans during their two-hour set. A film crew from HDLogix was on site commemorating the occasion for a forthcoming 3D concert film, their presence felt as a camera swooped over the floor crowd at the end of a mechanical crane, or as cameramen crept onstage to shoot a close-up of Inez puffing a stoge.
Alice’s staging was relatively simple, an enhanced version of the Paramount setup with Kinney up on a short platform, bookended by LED lighting. A set of triangular panels over head and a three-panel video screen were new, I think, since I don’t recall any video from last winter.
The curtain dropped and Alice started in fifth gear with “Them Bones,” the classic leadoff track from 1992’s “Dirt.” The band followed with “Dam That River” and “Rain When I Die,” the second and third tracks from their best album. And for a second, I thought Alice might be following a trend that’s quickly becoming cliché among veteran rockers – you know, playing a classic album in its entirety. I was kind of glad when “Again” came up next. Fans can spin the album at home.
To be honest, I didn’t dig this performance quite as much as the last Alice in Chains concert I attended at the Paramount Theatre in February. That’s partly because of the less intimate setting Friday. But it also has something to do with a slightly weaker pacing and set list. Things stalled a bit towards the middle, right around the time the band delivered “Grind,” the mediocre leadoff cut from the self-titled album, and “Rotten Apple” – pretty song, but kind of a snoozer in concert.
Otherwise, Alice delivered a satisfying mix of old hits and the best tracks from “Black Gives Way.” Besides “Sludge Factory,” “Check My Head” may be the song the band has done since “Dirt.’ That and “Acid Bubble,” with its frantic tempo shifts, are quickly becoming fan favorites. And during the encore, ballad “Black Gives Way to Blue” served as poignant tribute to Staley, the fallen singer’s hazy silhouette projected onto the screens behind the band as the song came to a close.
“This ain’t just an occasion for mourning, this is an occasion for celebrating,” DuVall declared by way of introducing the next song. It was the stark, epic “Love Hate Love,” which he explained was the first song he ever sang with Alice in Chains.
Mastodon opened the BlackDiamondSkye show, but sadly I missed a big chunk of their 40-minute set dealing with camera gear issues. I wised up, bailed on the photos and made it back out in time for “Megalodon,” with that twangy, Allman Brothers-style bridge fans go crazy for, and “Blood and Thunder,” the anthemic lead cut from “Leviathan,” which is still my favorite Mastodon song.
It’s all good and well the Atlanta quartet has gotten in touch with its ethereal, King Crimson-meets-Yes side; but less sprawling, prog-rock epics and more “Blood and Thunder,” “Workhorse” and “Mother Puncher,” por favor.
The Deftones followed with their trippy, emo take on metal, kicking things off with “Rocket Skates” from this year’s “Diamond Eyes” disc. Manic front man Chino Moreno’s voice went from lilting coo to blood curdling shriek as he bounced around the stage: “Kniiiiiives, raaaaaazors, guns! F— with me.”
His quieter vocals were swallowed up by a hazy wall of noise, and there was a sameness to some of the Deftones song. Standouts included “My Own Summer (Shove It),” the bludgeoning “You’ve Seen the Butcher” and radio smash “Change (In the House of Flies),” which served as set closer.
Alice in Chains set list
Oct. 8, 2010
Dam That River
Rain When I Die
Check My Head
Last of My Kind
We Die Young
Down in a Hole
Black Gives Way to Blue
Love Hate Love (this and previous number dedicated to Layne Staley)
Man in the Box
Opening acts: The Deftones and Mastodon