Last Night: Alice in Chains at EMP

Let's just get this out of the way: Jerry Cantrell is a fine guitarist with a lovely voice. I have no axe to grind with Mr. Cantrell and I think he's a talented fellow who should continue to make music till his impressive mane of shimmery blonde hair turns snow white. However, I really don't think he should make it under the moniker of "Alice in Chains," regardless of who he is collaborating with.

When I walked into EMP last night to catch the not-so-secret AIC acoustic show, there were a few hundred fans in attendance, all of whom appeared to be enjoying themselves very much. They were singing along loudly to "The Rooster", one of the last singles from AIC's wildly successful, junk-inspired opus, Dirt. I love that record; "The Rooster" not as much as tracks like "Them Bones" and "Angry Chair." That album may sound slightly dated now in terms of production values, but those are damn good songs and Layne Staley--tortured and destructive man that he was--gave an indisputable star turn in the vocal department. It's a horrific, but gorgeous piece of art.

I have no doubt that Cantrell was probably more than half of what made that band successful. He obviously did the lion's share of the writing, and his harmonies (and occasional lead vocals) were a critical part of the mix. However, Staley was simply the dark, kinetic energy that tipped the scales for that band, and now that he's not part of the equation, those songs don't weigh as much by themselves.

The acoustic set was pleasant enough. Original members Cantrell, bassist Mike Inez, and drummer Sean Kinney haven't lost momentum or chops, and when the set flowed into the song "No Excuses", it sounded for a brief moment like we were back in pre-condo-explosion-era Seattle, circa '94. "This is great; you're a good crowd," boomed Cantrell. "But hey, it's a Seattle crowd." That observation was met with loud cheers, something part of me wishes I could have joined in on. But as soon as they launched in to "Down in a Hole", with new vocalist William DuVall (pictured above) taking on Staley's vocal parts, I simultaneously felt bored and a little sick to my stomach.

When they finished that song, Cantrell asked if the audience if they wanted to hear "the new shit," referring to a listening party for the forthcoming album, Black Gives Way to Blue. Indeed, they did, and the crowd proceeded to follow Cantrell out the EMP doors and through the Seattle Center to the Pacific Science Center's Laser Dome Theater. While I appreciated the nod to the universal stoner/metalhead's love for listening to rock will watching an LED light show, I just didn't have the heart to go in.

I haven't thought about Layne Staley's death for a while. Like far too many musicians, particularly in our community, his young life was cut short by chemicals and dumb-ass choices. I applaud Cantrell and company for surviving the trauma such a senseless loss induces, but to continue to play under that name when the man who was such a defining element of that name is now dead just seems a tad tasteless. Keep making music, hell, keep playing those songs if you want to, but calling it Alice in Chains just feels incongruous with the presentation.

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