I, and many people in this audience I suspect, have been waiting for this concert for a long time. Until now Alice in chains performances on UK soil have been limited to one-off shows in London and festival appearances so it is little surprise that this UK tour, arriving on the back of their universally acclaimed new album, has sold out. The Birmingham academy (once everyone manages to find the damn thing) is heaving and there is a genuine air of expectation in the place for a band who have inspired so many.
The house lights dim and the band saunter on stage before slamming in to ‘It ain’t like that’. From the off AIC sound heavy, streamlined and focused and there is a pounding intensity in their songs that really works in the live environment. William DuVall is a fantastic singer, energetic and powerful. In an interview with SonicAbuse recently he said that he sang these songs form his own place of truth, and here you can see that he truly gives his all to the performance, imbuing the lyrics with his own sense of melody and honesty. Next up, and to my great joy, is ‘Again’ which outstrips the record in terms of heaviness and pounds the audience into blissful submission. For the superstitious amongst you, tonight being Friday 13th the band sees the band beset by technical gremlins but the band, who have always demonstrated a sturdy sense of humour about such things, merely accept the interlude as a chance to chat to the audience and play an impromptu jam, thus turning what could have been a loss of momentum into a triumph. With everything working again we get a one-two punch of ‘them bones’ and ‘dam that river’ which has the mosh pit, which was vigorous enough anyway, working overtime. Beautiful new single ‘your decision’ and a rapturously received ‘no excuses’ give people a chance to cool off before the writhing riff to ‘Check my brain’ sends the crowd once more into a frenzy.
Sticking with material from the new album, the band introduce the monumental ‘looking in view’ a monolithic slice of doom rock which features a sublime solo from Jerry and which sounds as if it could level buildings and then the awesomely twisted intro of ‘rain when I die’ appears tearing the place apart with its savagery. Stools appear on stage yet for a short acoustic set which sees the band performing soulful versions of ‘Down in a hole’ (which precipitates the sort of mass sing-a-long normally reserved for stadium rock bands, ‘heaven beside you’, ‘got me wrong’ (which receives thunderous applause’ and an emotional ‘black gives way to blue’, the astonishingly poignant tribute to Layne Staley. The band make the sensible decision to move away from DAT recordings and so instead of Sir Elton on disc we have drummer Sean Kinney filling the gap on a xylophone, which works remarkably well. Sadly some idiots in the crowd decided that this quietly introspective song was a great opportunity to talk which seemed both ignorant and disrespectful, but for the majority it was a tear-jerking reminder for the dead singer whose image appeared on the screen as the song climaxes with the words “I remember you”.
Returning to the heavier material the band slam into ‘God am’ with its staccato riff before performing the mental ‘acid bubble’ and then they close the main body of the set with ‘angry chair’ and ‘man in the box’ which segue into one another and still sound huge even when compared to the new material, which, it must be added, stands head and shoulders with their older material. A brief (and incredibly loud) encore break and the band return to yet more chants of ‘rooster’. “Man, you guys really love that fucking song!” Jerry muses “You mind if we warm up first?” and warm up they do, with ‘lesson learned’ from the new album , the bass heavy ‘Would’ (which sees crowd surfers almost going through the ceiling in their enthusiasm, amazing even the band) and finally ‘Rooster’ which provides one last opportunity for the audience to sing along to songs that many thought they’d never get to see in a live environment.
As the last notes ring out and the band, clearly overwhelmed at the depth of crowd feeling to their return, give out picks, drum skins and anything else not bolted to the stage, you feel that you have just witnessed something truly special. Open, honest and truly willing to give it their all to the fans the band captured the hearts of every single person in this packed out building and satisfied on every level from the brutal dynamics of their heavy material to the naked beauty of the acoustic interlude. The set list chosen perfectly balanced new and old material and the audience reaction was also a joy to behold. William DuVall pointed out that ‘Rooster’s’ not about Layne, not about anything he went through – it’s about Cantrell’s dad but Layne sang the hell out of it, didn’t he?” The greatest compliment I can think of for the singer is that the same can be said of him and he has brought an exciting new life to Alice in Chains. While Layne will never be forgotten, and his ghost still hangs heavy over the songs and the members of the band who lost their friend, you can see a genuine chemistry between the band and a genuine excitement to be back on stage. This was a fantastic concert that will live long in the memories of those who were there. Let’s hope they return soon.
It ain’t like that
Dam that river
Check my brain
A looking in view
Rain when I die
Down in a hole
Heven beside you
Got me wrong
Black gives way to blue
Man in the box