2009 has been an amazing year for gigs (how I’m going to pick a best of some of them, I have no idea), and having already seen a shorter, festival length set from Alice In Chains at Sonisphere in the summer, I had a good idea of just how good this was going to be. But first, having deliberately turned up to the venue a bit later, we had to deal with heavy security to even get in (cheers for treating all gig-goers at potential criminals, folks), and then the last couple of songs by Little Fish, the unknown support band who appear to have little more than a single or two out so far, and were bog-standard, turgid indie-rock. To be fair to them, such was the clear partisan feel of the crowd – the demographic was clearly older than many gigs I attend nowadays, for one – I don’t think any support act other than another grunge name from the 90s would have stood a chance either.
The half-hour between sets quickly stretched to forty-five minutes, with a vocal crowd chanting for AiC (and amusingly, “Jerry! Jerry! Jerry” in the style of a certain TV star) and quickly turning to booing as the delay got longer (which surely could have been nipped in the bud if a simple announcement confirming the apparent technical problems had been made). All was quickly forgotten, though, as the lights dimmed, the band took to the stage…and the crowd roared. No, really – at points, the crowd were louder than the band, singing along to just about everything, although happily it was a great, happy atmosphere.
Which when you consider the band’s catalogue of songs of darkness and despair – there really are few light moments anywhere in their history – is really something, and the joyous nature of the evening rubbed off on the band, who were beaming throughout and clearly loving every moment. As for what they played: despite the set being cut by a couple of songs due to the technical issues, they covered every release (albums/EPs from Facelift onwards) at some point or another, covered a good portion of the new album, squeezed in an acoustic interlude, and despite the apparently tight curfew came back after 2300 for two more songs. Highlights are tough to pick, although the old, old It Ain’t Like That was a fantastic surprise as the opener, Check My Brain has clearly settled in as the fan favourite from the new album…and then there was the acoustic section.
It Ain’t Like That
Dam That River
Check My Brain
A Looking In View
Rain When I Die
Heaven Beside You [Acoustic]
Got Me Wrong [Acoustic]
Black Gives Way To Blue [Acoustic]
What The Hell Have I?
Man In A Box
I have to say I wasn’t expecting it, but with the acoustic EPs (and Unplugged album) it made perfect sense. Heaven Beside You has always worked much better in an acoustic form, while Got Me Wrong got one of the biggest singalongs of the night (it was an outpouring of sheer joy, that, for the chorus), while new album closer Black Gives Way To Blue seemed an odd choice, until the song closed, when an image of Layne Staley appeared projected above the band: and with nothing said about him by Jerry Cantrell or the rest of the band, this appeared a good way to acknowledge the shadow cast by him.
Post-acoustic set, it was onto the home straight, and immediately a rabbit was pulled out of the hat in the form of What The Hell Have I? – it’s apparently a long time since the band have played it, as Jerry admitted, and it can’t be far off being as long since I had heard it. It took until this morning for me to remember what it was called! Aside from the sludgy, lengthy Acid Bubble – which sounds immense live – it was then time for the real classics. Man In A Box in particular nearly took the roof off when the chorus kicked in, and Would? wasn’t far behind, before Rooster provoked a mass singalong – even to the wordless melodies, again – to bring things to a close.
Yeah, things were missed – Last of My Kind off the new album was a surprise omission, frankly, and We Die Young would have been nice, amongst others – but I also got the distinct impression that many of the songs more lyrically associated with Layne Staley were perhaps missing for good reason. It can’t be easy for the band to play some of the songs they did, never mind some of the others they didn’t.
But that’s barely even a quibble – this was such a good gig that a friend and I are considering the Nottingham gig on 06-Dec too. Even better than they were at Sonisphere, this was no exercise in nostalgia, instead the sound of a band gloriously reborn, with new material so good that it is able to stand on it’s own, and indeed fit in nicely with the old stuff…at the same time pleasing just about everyone. Yes, this isn’t AiC with Layne, but nor is it a mere tribute. This was frankly spectactular, heartwarming stuff with the best atmosphere in a crowd I’ve seen in years, and a perfect way to appreciate a band I’ve been listening to for the best part of seventeen years.