Live: Alice In Chains

Sorrowful Seattleites rock the West Coast

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Ensconced in the rough, crumbling mountains east of San Diego sits the paradisiacal Pala casino – a lush, palm-tree-lined oasis where the legendary Alice In Chains are kicking off their summer tour.

The open-air stage is flanked by the casino’s 10-storey hotel to one side and cyclopean rust-coloured mountains on the other, with rows of white plastic chairs set out for the punters, making it feel more like a wedding than a metal show – that is until the band walk out and explode into the otherwordly roar of Junkhead. Jerry Cantrell’s callus-inducing bends reverberate with dark ferocity and William DuVall effortlessly explores the heroic vocal range that song requires, the crowd gleefully joining him for its tunefully amoral verse, ’Be high, convince them to buy!

AIC’s live show underscores how little the band have in common with the grunge movement to which they are inextricably attached; this is no dated rehash of lo-fi Seattle shoegaze, but pure, unfiltered heavy metal – a sumptuous feast of humongous downtuned riffs and glacial tempos, augmented with vibrant bursts of bluesy pentatonics and plenty of arena-rock posturing from all four musicians. The churning, monolithic riffage of Check My Brain, Angry Chair and Man In the Box incite feral howls of approval. AIC had kicked the plugs out of the wall sockets long before MTV cast Unplugged as a 90s rite-of-passage, and haunting elegies like Nutshell, Got Me Wrong and Down In A Hole showcase their vastly understated ability to coax titanic waves of emotion from the barest of arrangements.

But it’s the piledrivers that we’ve come to hear, and the band oblige with a raft of bone-crushing classics including It Ain’t Like That, Hollow, Grind and Would? Jerry cracks that because none of the band have to “take a piss,” they’re going to go straight into the encores. After Heaven Beside You and No Excuses, they convene at the drums before Jerry explains that he’s deferring to drummer Sean Kinney for the next song, dryly offering, “I would have played the other one first, but…” They pile into We Die Young with military force, a siege of crunchy grooves and battling tempos that push the crowd to the very brink of hysteria before curiously ending with the moody, downtempo Acid Bubble. An utterly exhilarating showcase from a band whose creative vitality hasn’t wavered.

Hailing from San Diego, California, Joe Daly is an award-winning music journalist with over thirty years experience. Since 2010, Joe has been a regular contributor for Metal Hammer, penning cover features, news stories, album reviews and other content. Joe also writes for Classic Rock, Bass Player, Men’s Health and Outburn magazines. He has served as Music Editor for several online outlets and he has been a contributor for SPIN, the BBC and a frequent guest on several podcasts. When he’s not serenading his neighbours with black metal, Joe enjoys playing hockey, beating on his bass and fawning over his dogs.