Alice in Chains - O2 Academy, Glasgow, Thu 14 Nov 2013
Come With the Fall's William DuVall delivers a fitting tribute to deceased frontman Layne Staley
Few bands recover from the death of their lead singer. Most implode or just cannot face the thought of carrying on (a few very rare cases, like AC/DC, go onto unlikely world domination). An important factor is who actually writes the majority of the material and in Alice in Chains' case co-founder Jerry Cantrell wrote most the music while Layne Staley wrote the lyrics. Admittedly band relations had been fractured for several years and Staley’s last performance with Alice in Chains was in 1996, the band never publicly broke up but Staley became involved with hard drugs and started to live a more confused, reclusive life. Sadly he died in 2002 and Alice in Chains officially disbanded. However in 2005 they played a series of charity gigs with a rolling line-up of vocalists including Pantera’s Phil Anselmo, Tool’s Maynard James Keenan and Come With the Fall’s William DuVall.
Something about DuVall clicked and he headed out on toured with the surviving members of AiC, then 2009 saw their first new material in almost 14 years with Black Gives Way to Blue. Duvall never tried to imitate Staley but certainly paid homage to his raw delivery. Cantrell's writing meant their new material isn’t a rip off but a continuation of their story, a more reflective take on scuzzy fuzz rock.
Their standing amongst their peers as one of the original Seattle bands that pioneered grunge means they have an enviable support bill for their UK tour. Walking Papers features Guns N' Roses’ Duff McKagan and Screaming Trees' Barrett Martin, who proceed to lay down a solid set of good time blues rock – think The Black Crowes with added snarl. Jeff Angell (The Missionary Position) is a ridiculously skinny and effortlessly charismatic frontman performing their final song from deep within the audience while dishing out hugs, high fives and photo ops.
It’s only fitting that the stage should be shrouded in fog for the arrival of Ghost, fronted by his evil eminence Papa Emeritus II, resplendent in skeletal face paint and catholic robes, and backed by the Nameless Ghouls. They play strangely upbeat satanic metal, deeply rooted in the music of Black Sabbath but there’s a jaunty lilting quality meaning even songs like ‘Infestissumam’, ‘Per Aspera ad Inferi’, ‘Ritual’ and ‘Monstrance Clock’ make devil worship sound like a jolly good lark.
Even with the heavyweight support the night still belonged to Alice in Chains. Unsurprisingly the gig is very Dirt heavy (almost 50% of tonight’s set culled from their classic 1992 album). Opening with a triple bill of squalling riffs on 'Rain When I Die’, ‘Them Bones’ and ‘Dam That River’. DuVall easily proves he’s earned his place in the band, his impassioned delivery a fitting tribute to Staley (particularly on a searing ‘Junkhead’, Staley's unapologetic love letter to the drugs that would eventually kill him). ‘Man in the Box’ and ‘Down in a Hole’ give a voice to self hatred while newer tracks such as ‘Hollow’, ‘Last of My Kind’ and ‘Check My Brain’ are dark and heavy, demonstrating their recent growth as a band. Grunge was always a more a media label than a defining sound and Cantrell always labelled AiC as a metal band. It’s evident in their doomy riffs and brooding intensity but the lyrical content was always more self confessional, adding just the right level of self pity and anger. It's Alice in Chains' unflinching mix of pain and fury that made their music so effective. Closing with the rumbling ‘Would?’ and truly epic ‘Rooster’, a track that cuts straight to the bone, AiC provide the perfect example of how depth and weight can be just as powerful as speed and aggression.
Full set-list for Alice in Chains at O2 Academy, Glasgow, Thu 14 Nov 2013
‘Rain When I Die’
‘Dam That River’
‘Man in the Box’
‘It Ain't Like That’
‘Last of My Kind’
‘We Die Young’
‘Check My Brain’
‘Down in a Hole’