At Rogers Arena on Thursday, October 7
Alice in Chains should take a page from Becel and start pushing a slogan that riffs on “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!” Those who scoff at the idea of paying big bucks to watch Layne Staley’s replacement replicate the late frontman’s tortured vocals might actually have checked out Thursday night’s concert if the Seattle band had such a calling card. Had purists been convinced to leave the suburbs and give new Alice in Chains singer William DuVall a chance, Rogers Arena would probably have been packed to the rafters instead of a still-impressive 70 percent full.
It might be sacrilegious to say it—especially if you’re in the presence of someone who caught Alice in Chains in the flesh before Staley’s out-of-control drug problem derailed the band in the late ’90s—but the reformed quartet puts on a mighty show. And not just a tribute performance, either, although there were certainly times when the rockers paid homage to their fallen brother, including with a heart-wrenching performance of “Black Gives Way to Blue”, the title track of their latest studio album, the first without Staley.The balls-to-the-wall, heavy rock assault offered up by guitarist Jerry Cantrell and company was worth every penny of the ticket price. A well-oiled machine, the legendary grunge group was in high spirits, clearly thrilled to finally be touring a record, something that Staley’s demons made near-impossible back in the good ol’ days.
And those were indeed the good ol’ days; that’s certainly not up for dispute.
As DuVall belted out classic numbers from the band’s back catalogue—including “Them Bones”, “Again”, and “Grind”—you couldn’t help but wonder if the bone-chilling sentiments expressed in the songs haunted him the way they did an army of flannel-clad grunge kids a couple of generations ago. For someone who wasn’t among the clan in the dark days of Staley’s reign, the new singer did an incredible job not only of preserving but of continuing the Alice in Chains legacy, while still showcasing his own persona on fresh tracks like the melodic “Check My Brain”.
To see DuVall belting out the epic set staple “Rooster”, fist thrust in the air with a seizure-inducing light show going on behind him, felt downright redemptive. The crowd, largely composed of dudes following along riff for riff on their air guitars, seemed perfectly thrilled with the version of Alice and Chains that stood before it.
Purists will always draw a hard line with the new edition of Alice in Chains, convinced that the band has committed heresy by continuing on without the man who defined landmarks like Dirt. But if it’s a matter of having one of Seattle’s original big four or going without, Thursday’s concert showed us that sometimes a 2.0 version—even if it isn’t necessarily improved—ain’t all that bad.
Just as stellar were Deftones, another act familiar with soldiering on after the loss of a founding member. The Chino Moreno–led quintet—now with Sergio Vega on bass after a tragic accident left original bassist Chi Cheng in a coma—slayed with walloping renditions of “Around the Fur” and “Change (In the House of Flies)”. There was hardly a second when Moreno wasn’t hurtling his body this way and that, microphone cable wrapped tightly around his forearm, testing the limits of his vocal cords. This was especially the case when the sweat-covered singer dedicated one of Deftones’ many explosive ragers to Cheng, then proceeded to wail like a man in the throes of a night terror, bounding up and down the riser situated at centre stage.
Both Deftones and Alice in Chains can thank Atlanta metal lords Mastodon for knocking pulse rates into overdrive early on in the evening. Inciting an all-out clapathon at 7:19 p.m. is no easy feat, especially when you’re trying to convince people to put down their first beer of the night and join in. But Rolling Stone’s pick for best metal band of 2008 had no problem doing just that.