Half way through this last Friday morning I got a call from a friend asking if I wanted to go see Alice in Chains perform that night. She works for a hotel and deals with a lot of VIP’s that come through, and often gets free tickets and VIP access to local concerts. After the last time AIC came “home” for a show, she and a couple other friends of mine went and I found out about it the next day; I was kind of hurt I wasn’t invited–but it turned out (and in her defense) she had absolutely no idea I was a big fan, and have been since I was 14 (reference). So this time, I went. And this time, it was at Key Arena (previous ones were at The Paramount), and they were filming it for a 3D film. Oh yes. I get to buy that DVD and say, “Yeah . . . I was there. Look! Look! Pause it! Right there! Look close! I’m right there! So cool! Okay, you can push play again.” I’m really looking forward to that. I was sitting among family and friends of the band, and I had backstage access. It was incredible. Let me say: connections area good thing to have.
So now that I’ve gone, let’s talk about it in my ever-trusty, numbered points format.
1. That is by far the loudest show I’ve ever attended. I’ve been to some loud ones, too. I’ve been to loud ones and stood right next to the main speakers on the stage. Those were episodes of The Joy of Painting compared to this one. I had such a hard time hearing my friends after the show due to all the ringing in my head.
2. William DuVall is no joke. Any time some guy replaces an iconic front man for a well-loved band, it usually doesn’t go well and plenty of fans react negatively. Such is the case with William DuVall. Yet this time I have to say I don’t get the justification. It’s not like a Roth vs. Hagar situation. It’s not even like how that one guy from that Judas Priest cover band joined Judas Priest when Rob Halford quit. I mean, really our choices at this point are “no Alice in Chains ever again,” or “Yes, more please.” Count me among the crowd that is in 100% favor of this band’s return, and though I still need to pick up the new album (I’ve heard it, though . . . I like it), I can truly say out of my own observation that William DuVall is a force that demands respect. He sounds just enough like Layne to keep the old songs feeling like Alice in Chains, and is his own enough that it doesn’t feel like something akin to Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic finding a Cobain impersonator and heading out on the road. I don’t think for one second that any of the guys in the group, DuVall included, took lightly their decision to resurrect Alice in Chains. Besides . . . it was very obvious from the concert that a driving force of these guys now is the memory of their friend.
3. Jerry Cantrell is an amazing guitarist. In a few weeks I’ll be publishing a post on over-rated and under-rated guitarists. Cantrell will not be mentioned in it, but he is absolutely under-rated for his style and ability. His solos are like . . . like . . . like butter.
4. Speaking of Cantrell, after watching the Deftones’ guitarist play it safe on 7- and 8-string guitars, it was great to see a genuine rock guitarist stick with a trusty 6-string. And beyond that, it’s nice to see a hard rock guitarist sticking with classic guitars like Les Pauls and G&M’s. Metal has marginalized itself so much with not only its image and appeal, but its equipment. Call me superficial, but one of the things I like seeing at rock concerts is awesome guitars. There’s nothing “cool,” in my opinion, about Jackson, Dean, and especially B.C. Rich. It was comforting to see a great like Cantrell playing guitars that look like guitars.
5. Those four guys know, like we know, that Dirt is Alice in Chains’s masterpiece. Jar of Flies and Alice in Chains might have both topped the charts, but ask any Alice in Chains fan and they’ll tell you Dirt reigns supreme. Now consider that the first three songs of the show were “Them Bones,” “Dam That River,” and “Rain When I Die,” and the very last song they played was “Would?” Um . . . that sounds to me like the band thinks there’s something significant about Dirt. And speaking of track three of that album, I caught the title of that as I was writing this and wondered . . . and it turns out I wasn’t the only one. Haha. But seriously, it did.
6. I consider it a pure honor to watch Sean Kinney play that drum part to “No Excuses” from like 50 feet away. There’s not much more I can say about that. It was awesome.
7. The Layne Staley tribute was spectacular. It was the first song of the encore, Jerry Cantrell came out with an acoustic and played “Black Gives Way to Blue,” which is his song about Layne, and as he ended the song, a silhouette of Layne appeared on the main screen behind him, and the other screens on the stage had his signature and read “1967-2002.” “Tasteful” is a word that comes to mind.
8. Like I said, I think DuVall’s great, but hearing him sing Staley’s lyrics felt weird. That’s because Staley’s lyrics were very deep and personal. At no point in the show was it strangest than when they sang “Junkhead.” Not only is DuVall singing someone else’s very personal lyrics, but they’re lyrics that are about severe substance abuse and addiction–which is what led to Staley’s death. One could argue, actually, that the inclusion of that song in the set list emphasizes all the more that that song was written not to be taken literally, but as a satire to demonstrate the ridiculous ways junkies justify themselves. I think one of the problems with that is Staley did too good of a job illustrating that.
(Not my video. I was directly across from this guy, though, about five or six rows further down; in other words I had better seats. Go me.)
9. For someone like me who has been a fan for so long, this was really the perfect concert. It was massive, it was loud, and, since they were filming it, they played an extended set. I bet the whole performance was over 90 minutes long. I can list a few songs they didn’t play that I wish they did, but really when you know their four main albums like the back of your hand, that’s expected.
10. My “back stage access” experience was kind of crappy. This really had to do with the nature of the venue and the importance of the show. My friends that had seen AIC before and had backstage access were at The Paramount, and said there weren’t a great deal of people back there. They even watched one show from the side of the stage. At Key Arena, we had to walk down to a little restaurant-looking area and sat there with easily 50-60 other people and drank soda and had free popcorn and stale tortilla chips. We were there for twenty minutes before any band members showed up, and it was DuVall first. About ten minutes later, Sean Kinney walked in, and it was only a couple minutes after that the Key Arena security started telling everyone they had to leave. Mike Inez walked in not too long after that, and it was pretty obvious that I wasn’t going to realize my “minimum dream” (as I put it that night) of getting a photo with Jerry Cantrell. I figured, if no Jerry, Sean is far from a poor compromise. I strategically placed myself in an area where the increasingly-frustrated venue staff wouldn’t make eye contact with me, and waited for Sean to make his rounds. Well . . . you know how I mentioned that there were 50-60 people there? Sean knew pretty much all of them. He was giving hugs, knew people by name, taking photos the way you take photos with college buddies you haven’t seen in years. So I stood there and waited. And waited. Finally, Sean walked by, and I had my little sentence ready (which was, “Hey, it’s nice to meet you; I’ve been a fan for a long time.”), I had my friend on standby with her iPhone for the photo . . . and we shook hands for 0.3 seconds, I said, “Hey, i–” and he goes, “How you doin?” and kept moving to some dude that had walked around our seating section like we owed him something because he knew the band. Turns out he did know them. Quite well. I’ll give Sean Kinney this–our extremely brief encounter gave me the impression that given a different situation, he would have been happy to chat for a few minutes and take a photo with me. It was something in the unannoyed way he said “hi” to me as he moved on to someone he knew and hadn’t seen in a while. So with it being painfully obvious that most of the people in that room were way more important to the band on a personal level than I was, and especially with the arena staff pushing everyone out, I threw in the towel on my goal. Hopefully it won’t be my last chance. But until then . . .