Alice In Chains’ gig at the Manchester Academy 1 was a tale a two bands: the great band they were and the great band they are today.
Coming back from the tragic loss of Layne Staley was always going to be hard, but more than 11 years after his death, each new album and tour pushes his spectre further into the background.
There was no mention of him on-stage last night and there didn’t need to be, his lyrics were still front and centre in a show that sensibly erred in favour of old favourites (after all, this is a band that hardly toured the UK while he was in it) and he was rembered through the celebration of those, rather than mawkish tributes.
Plus, this is more than just a glorified tribute band. In William DuVall, Alice In Chains have a frontman who can both damn-near-replicate Staley’s vocals but also push them forwards as an ongoing force with two very good albums behind them.
Indeed, the gig got off to a slightly flat start with Again from their self-titled album (Staley’s last), only coming to life when DuVall strapped on his guitar for Check My Brain off comeback album Black Gives Way To Blue.
It tended to be the case that he’d play guitar on the newer songs and not on the older ones, and that occasionally left them sounding a bit muted, but that seemed less evident as the night progressed, certainly after an explosive Man In The Box.
From new album The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, Voices, Hollow and Stone were played and they were all excellent and pretty well received for ‘new material’, while DuVall’s stage presence kept everyone engaged throughout.
Jerry Cantrell’s new short hair took a bit of getting used to, especially when he unwisely paired it with sunglasses for the first few songs, making him look a bit like a partially-sighted geography teacher who had somehow found his way on stage – or worse, a muso from a jazz fusion band. Once he shed them, he looked like Jerry Cantrell with short hair and everything was fine again.
It’s easy to underappreciate Cantrell’s significance to Alice In Chains as he’s never been ‘the singer’, even though his vocals have always been almost as important and prominent as Staley or DuVall, and he had plenty of moments to shine, including a few virtuoso guitar solos (backlit for maximum cheesy effect).
This was my first Alice In Chains gig, despite having been a fan since just before the AIC album came out, so it’s hard to distance myself from the emotional reaction to hearing songs like Nutshell, Down In A Hole and Got Me Wrong live for the first time. So I won’t even try.
One of the highlights for me was hearing Sludge Factory from AIC, a song that I wouldn’t have put any money on hearing, and one that Setlist.fm confirms has been only rarely played on this tour. Hardly their catchiest and one of their darkest, it was a real treat and made up for not getting to hear Rotten Apple.
Grind was another great one to hear because it was the first new song after I got into them, so holds a special place in my heart, but obviously the likes of Them Bones, Would? and Rooster were incredible, with the latter a perfect set closer that had everyone’s hands up in the air on cue.
I can’t lie and say that there isn’t still a part of me that would give anything to see a gig with Layne Staley fronting Alice In Chains, but that’s not how life goes. Some die young (with Mike Starr included here) and some live on to keep the band going.
And every time they put on a show as good as this, Alice In Chains prove that they made the right decision to not only get back in the saddle, but also to hire DuVall. This was a brilliant, triumphant performance from a band with a future as bright as it’s been for two decades.