Last night I saw Alice in Chains in concert with Velvet Revolver. I am indescribably STOKED!! My friend Justin hooked me up with tickets as a birthday gift and we went together to see them at the Woodlands Pavillion. We had lawn seats, but we got there early and got lawn chairs, so as far as lawn goes, we had front row seats.
The lights went down to a deep purple and the next thing you know, you hear the droning strumming of the intro to “Again“, which totally set the mood/tone for their set. The new singer, William DuVall, was excellent, although I was able to hear his take on the music as slightly different than the late Layne Staley‘s, which normally would include exaggerated “r” and nasal sounds and sound so dark and desperate. Perhaps I am imposing that onto Layne’s performances knowing about his bout with heroin, but there is definitely a different sound coming from DuVall, and it’s actually really good. I can’t wait to hear what they come up with when they finally come out with new original material with DuVall as the established lead singer! OK, back to the concert…
(video footage from other people at other shows)
The band jumped right into “Grind“, another great track from their 1995 self-titled album. I was reminded at the genius of the band’s sound. The guitar part and bass parts are usually not “the same” as in rhythm and chords. This song illustrates it well. On the surface, it sounds like both instruments are doing the simple “jung-jung..jung-jung” double eighth-note rhythm. But the subtle difference is that the bass holds onto it’s second of the two notes and slides down each time, making the already heavy notes seem 20 times heavier, so heavy that the player can’t keep them up as they keep sliding down.
The guitar part is those same two notes, then two more, but as chords, outlining the root and minor third of the song’s tonality. The cycle of this rhythm can be construed as nothing other than a relentless grind, which, combined with the lyrics make quite the homogeneous dark song. When the song reaches the chorus, the vocal harmonies simply soar and for a moment, an inexperienced listener might not understand why that “positive”, “upbeat” sound of the chorus would belong in this genre of music at all, less such a dark song. BUT IT WORKS! So very well. It’s difficult to describe how well this songwriting works! On to the next song performed:
Jerry Cantrell cranked out the intro to the first song on their first album Facelift (1990), “We Die Young“. This picked the pace of the set up quite a bit and everyone was rocking out. It also gave DuVall a chance to really strut his vocals. Even by this third song in the set list, it still hadn’t sunk in to me or many around me that we were actually watching Alice In Chains perform live, right in front of us. It was truly surreal. For long-time fans, it is especially sweet since we know the history and how once Layne Staley died and AIC disbanded, they had told the media that that was it. No more Alice In Chains, that they would never get back together or write new music as Alice In Chains without Staley. Thank God for people who say “never” and tempt God/fate what have you, because they finally came around and agreed to get back together AND write new material as Alice in Chains, which makes the likes of me VERY excited!
Borrowing from the faster pace of “We Die Young”, the band launched right into “Them Bones“, which is THE definitive Alice In Chains song, in my book. This is the song that has it all: odd time signatures, dark and crunchy guitar, parallel 4th and 5th vocal harmonies, dark and crunchy guitar, desperate, painful themes and dark and crunchy guitar. At only 2 and a half minutes, this song gets in quick, punches you in the nuts and gets right out, leaving the listener to wonder what the heck just hit them, yet wanting more!
The tone slowed back down with the slippery bass line intro to “Rain When I Die“, an increbilbly dark and powerful song that starts with the guitar solo before the first verse. (Side note: I am SO in admiration of the fact that this song is in 6/4 time as well. How many friggen metal songs pull off 6/4 so seemlessly? This guitar riff is SO perfect for it, I just have to say.) I honestly don’t know exactly how well DuVall did with this song because I was busy singing along with this song at the top of my lungs! Singing along with this song (and later on “Rooster” was a huge highlight for me.)
Sheeeeee won’t le-eeeeeeet me hi-iiiiiide.
Sheeeeeee don’t want meeeeeee to cryyyyyyyyy!
(fyi, this particular youtube vid includes a guest gutarist from Kill Hannah)
Cantrell then cranked up the grungy-crunchy intro to “It Ain’t Like That“, another chance for DuVall to show off his vocal chops and sensitivity to the original singer’s version. The one thing I noticed about this song live that separates it from the original is the chorus. The original recorded chorus uses 3 eighth notes in triplet groupings and the song stays in time, as in, does not slow down. In the live version, they really slowed it down on this part to about the speed of quarter note triplets and it gave the chorus an incredible punch and emphasis that was not there previously. I really dugg it. Hard to describe. OK, I found a vid from another night so you can see what I mean. (They do it sorta in this vid but it seemed like it hung forever last night at my concert)
There were two songs that I was REALLY hoping they would play last night…Junkhead and Down In A Hole. And that’s exactly what they played next! I was about to lose my mind!
Junkhead, as many of their songs are, is about drugs.
“You can’t understand a user’s mind, but try with your books and degrees.”
“What’s my drug of choice? Well, what have you got?”
This song continually testifies to me the anguish and pain and helplessness that a heroin addict must feel, which keeps me even farther away from the stuff than I already am. I love the effectiveness in which this band is able to communicate these feelings through this music, to people who have not experienced what they have, like me. Pain by proxy, I guess, and for some reason, I really, really dig it.
(Here’s a version of it live before the studio release AND with Layne Staley! Enjoy!)
Down in a Hole is a less grinding song than Junkhead, but is no less poignant in demonstrating helplessness and isolationism:
Down in a hole and I don’t know if I can be saved
See my heart I’ve decorated like a grave
You don’t understand who they thought I was supposed to be
Look at me now a man who won’t let himself be
Down in a hole, feeling so small
Down in a hole, losing my soul
I’d like to fly,
But my wings have been so denied
This song is also one of their best musically crafted songs. The woven vocal harmonies throughout are very slick and enticing, almost a lullaby that Staley was singing to himself while alone in that hole of which he sings. The live version is well done and the moody lighting helped illustrate the story.
The classic grunge guitar sound can be heard in all of their music, but the intro to Angry Chair, which they played next, is one of the most recognizable grunge guitar intros ever. The droning of the parallel 4th/5th vocal harmonies on the verses is contrasted by the chorus section with the more melodic:
I don’t mind, yeah
I don’t mind, I-I-I
Lost my mind, yeah
But I don’t mind, I-I-I
Can’t find it anywhere
I don’t mind
The tempo of this song allowed the band to slide right into their very popular hit “Man In The Box.”. The crowd went nuts! So did I! As I looked closer at the band on stage, I realized they were being joined by a 5th person who was tall, black and holding a microphone. IT WAS DUG PINNICK OF KING’S X!!! I completely lost my mind at that point! I wanted to scream, sing, call someone, write it down and rush the stage all at once, I was so beside myself! I ended up simply watching as intently as I could to get as much detail on this impromtu treat that was hapenneing right before my eyes! Dug and DuVall alternated phrases, and I have to tell you, when it was Dug’s turn to sing…oh my…THAT GUY CAN SING! He “Put A Little Soul” into that performance for sure! He changed up the lyrics a bit in a soulful way that was completely amazing! I still can’t believe what I saw. Just a few minutes ago, I commented on Dug’s myspace about it, letting him know how fricken awesome that was! I did overhear yougner people in the crowd asking “who the heck is that guy?”, but I know. No, WE know, Justin and I. Hell yes!!!!
I’m the dog who gets beat
Shove my nose in s%t
Won’t you come and save me, save me
Well somebody needed to come save ME after a surprise like that! That was just too much! After the song, Dug waved and hopped backstage and the thundering unmistakable bass line intro to “Would?” blared. Yes, the question mark is part of the song title, so shut up.
This is another popular Alice song that defined grunge and their sound back in the day and was even featured in the Singles soundtrack, a grunge-days early 90′s movie with Matt Dillon and Bridget Fonda, but I digress.
Into the flood again
Same old trip it was back then
So I made a big mistake
Try to see it once my way
DuVall shined on this performance and proved that he belongs in this band at this time. Seeing the entire crowd shout the end of the song with fist pumps was very cool:
Hell……….YES! That was so awesome. And I just knew they would play that song. I also had a feeling they wouldn’t be able to escape alive from the pavillion without playing Rooster, and they did not dissappoint! Rooster was next and was the closing song.
Once again, the crowd played its part in the eerie begining (and end) to Rooster:
Oo-oo-oo-oooh Ooh Ooh Ooh Oohooh ooh ooh ooh
The whole crowd was united and surprisingly in tune! Throughout the beginning of the tune, cell phone lights and lighters were all lit, everyone chilling and letting the song pour over them:
Ain’t found a way to kill me yet
Eyes burn with stinging sweat
Seems every path leads me to nowhere
Wife and kids household pet
Army green was no safe bet
The bullets scream to me from somewhere
Here they come to snuff the rooster
Yeah here come the rooster
(and then this next downbeat is when it gets very loud and the crowd goes INSANE!)
you know he ain’t gonna die
No, no, no ya know he ain’t gonna die
When I hear the guitar “singing” the melody after this part (especially in the many, many times I have heard it on the studio version), Jerry lets the last note of the phrase, a minor 7th in the key of the song, it just sits there and rings and makes no apologies and it, to me, has always been a goose-bump or chills moment in the song. To experience that live was INCREDIBLE. I actually shut my eyes for most of that part and just let it wash over me. I wonder if anyone else besides Jerry knows what I mean about this. (it begins at 2:34 in the studio version. Just……go and listen to it, please.) It’s one of my favorite moments in all of Alice’s music.
The song had to end at some point and it was time for them to leave. They graciously stayed on stage for a good minute or so (some bands just bolt when they’re done…ahem Rush!) and you could tell that they were very grateful to all of the support and that they wanted to play more. I predict they headline a tour in a year to support and album that is supposedly in the works! That would be as important to me as the Beatles reuniting after John died, were it to happen. In a way, I guess it did for those two songs. Of course, now we are down to only 2 Beatles, but that’s another story.
Please! Long live Alice in Chains and their unique and amazing sound, and with the absence (I believe) of drug abuse, what will their new material sound like? What will it be about? They still have so much to draw upon, I am certain.
After the stage change, Velvet Revolver came on and played for an hour and a half or so. I have never seen a Guns n Roses show from back in the day, and didn’t know much Velvet stuff, so I wasn’t expecting much. (You can read more about about that part of it at Mike McGuff’s blog here.) VR was OK, but it completely paled in comparison to Alice’s historical show. They played Patience, It’s So Easy and Mr. Brownstone from the GNR repertoire and Intertstate Love Song and Sex Type Thing from the Stone Temple Pilots repertoire, all of which rocked very much. But what does it say when the GNR and STP songs completely outperform the VR songs? Sad, really. I guess I can say I saw Slash and Duff, though, so that’s cool. But I feel so disrespectful even talking about them in the same breath as ALICE IN CHAINS!!!! I will never forget that concert last night! Thanks Justin!