Published Apr 18, 2019Alice In Chains could have crumbled 17 years ago when original singer Layne Staley was found dead of an overdose. The band had already been inactive, due to Staley's deteriorating health, and many had already counted them out. Instead, they picked up the pieces, added a new vocalist/guitarist and carved out a fresh path that isn't far from the one the started with original bassist Mike Starr and Staley in 1985.
Now a decade following Black Gives Way to Blue, frontman and singer William DuVall continues to bring a renewed sense of urgency and intensity, giving even older songs a renewed feeling of tension and emotion.
With four oversized boxes of blinding white light behind them, the group unleashed heavy-handed cuts "Bleed the Freak" from Dirt, "Check My Brain" from Black Gives Way to Blue and "Again" from their self-titled album. One of the overlooked songwriters and guitarist from the '90s, Jerry Cantrell is the reason the group are still around. The humble songwriter, singer and guitarist can peel off solos that never seem gratuitous or self-centred. From rapid, metal-style runs to minimalistic finger picking where he would hold ever note as long as possible, Cantrell's vocal harmonies and guitar tone have always been the bedrock of the band.
Bassist Mike Inez's rubbery drop-D bass and original drummer Sean Kinney's stick work give other parts of AIC's foundational sound. Inez seemed to be enjoying himself, bounding around the large stage at Winnipeg's Burton Cummings Theatre thanks to a wireless setup that allowed the band to roam unencumbered.
Crowd favourite "Them Bones" has aged perfectly as its still as potent as the '90s version that was in heavy rotation on MuchMusic. Single "Rainer Fog" may have a more commercial rock appeal than anything the group have ever done, but if the crowd already knows the words, you can expect an even heavier rotation on radio.
A crushing combination of "Down in a Hole," "No Excuses" and "Stone" from the group's 2013 album "The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here" really highlighted Inez's pulverizing deep bass and Cantrell's skilful solos that comes across as effortless to the veteran Seattle artist.
As both DuVall and Cantrell switched over guitars for a slow-burning "Nutshell," AIC gave the crowd a look at their softer side, something they cemented through Sap, Jar of Flies and their iconic MTV Unplugged performance. That mood didn't stick around very long and quickly the band launched into a five-song home stretch, including "The One You Know," Would?," "Angry Chair," "Man in the Box" and a drawn-out, solo-heavy version "Rooster" with Cantrell working the wah-wah pedal to full effect.
Most bands wouldn't have survived the upheavals and tribulations that Alice in Chains had to deal with, but the fact they are turning out seemingly timeless music in 2019 shouldn't be overlooked.
It isn't very often you see a headliner of folk festivals opening for heavy outfits like AIC, but it was a pleasant surprise to see City & Colour (pictured) open the show. An obvious fan of the band, Green handled the rambunctious rock crowd graciously, at one point apologizing to a heckler to say that the rock n' roll was coming. This lightened the mood and Green performed a smattering of songs from across his career that ultimately resonated with the crowd.