When calling to mind the concussive heaviness and bleak, nihilistic lyricism of Alice In Chains, “playful” might well be the last adjective that springs to mind, and yet that is precisely the state of the Seattle metallers on this balmy California evening.
This is their first live show in six months and they plow straight into the monolithic stomp of Junkhead, effortlessly striking that verdant compromise between taut musicianship and loose, extemporaneous grooving.
AIC’s ambitions have always played out as two parallel expressions — the dizzying heft of their bone-crushers and the spare minimalism of their acoustic catalogue. Tonight, bludgeoning versions of Man In The Box, Rooster and Check My Brain incite testosterone-drenched roars of approval from the punters, while Nutshell and Down In A Hole inspire singalongs.
Nobody is having more fun than the band. After Got Me Wrong, Jerry Cantrell teaches a clearly bemused William DuVall how to play the intro to KISS’s Parasite and later bassist Mike Inez gleefully trash talks the local NFL team. While Jerry protests that the band “haven’t played this one in ages”, the elegiac vocal harmonies and bluesy gallop of Heaven Beside You easily best the pale and reedy MTV Unplugged version. They end with the ponderous, slow-burning Acid Bubble – not the most electrifying finish, yet a mesmerising and strangely apt conclusion to an intimate and occasionally surreal evening.