Into the Pit: 183: Alice In Chains + GHOST – Live at Alexandra Palace – 09-November 2013

After a period with only one gig in a month, this was a return to gigging again, the first of ten shows or so between now and Christmas. And for this one, it was my first ever visit to Alexandra Palace for a gig (somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit), and while well organised – few queues getting in, friendly staff amongst other pleasures – I couldn’t help feeling that the food/drink court area was priced at an extraordinary level (a fiver for a pint of Fosters, for example).

Still, it’s a captive market, I guess. But getting booze was certainly preferable to the pedestrian, bar-room rock of Walking Papers, who despite featuring members of Screaming Trees and Guns’N’Roses, were desperately dull and I’m glad I only caught one or two songs at most.

GHOST setlist

Per Aspera ad Inferi
Con Clavi Con Dio
Stand by Him
Prime Mover
If You Have Ghosts
Year Zero
Monstrance Clock

Much more interesting, once again, was the quite curious soundclash that is GHOST. I first saw them live in March at Brixton, which was a spectacular headlining show, with a perfect sound and a jaw-dropping visual presence that made it absolutely and totally clear as to why they were rapidly rising the ranks in the metal scene. This show wasn’t quite to that height – the sound wasn’t so great, and being a support this time around they didn’t have the space, perhaps, to unleash their full visual show, but it was still damned good.

With a now-released second album, too, it allowed for more familiarity with the material, and this show appeared to be the best bits of both albums, in particular the first few songs of the set, that absolutely fizzed with energy and showed the band’s more anthemic side, too. What was most curious, though, was their choice of cover – Roky Erickson‘s If You Have Ghosts. It was apparently the first time they’d tried it live, and going on the general indifference within the crowd, it did appear this went over many heads. That said, it’s from a new covers EP out this coming week, and I prefer some of the other tracks on it.

GHOST do appear to be a somewhat divisive band, but the reality is that they are a band who are really trying to do something different. Harking back to seventies, occult-influenced rock is certainly not something that is overdone, and with their avowed commitment to anonymity, and a live show that never seems to disappoint, there is much to recommend here, even if their recorded material still doesn’t quite match up to the live equivalent.

Alice In Chains setlist

Them Bones
Dam That River
Check My Brain
Man In The Box
Got Me Wrong
Last Of My Kind
Rotten Apple
No Excuses
We Die Young
Down In A Hole

It Ain’t Like That

There were no fears, to be honest, over what I was going to get with Alice In Chains. They ceased touring some time before I was really going to gigs in the nineties, but since their reactivation with William DuVall, I’ve already seen them twice (their first UK re-appearance at Sonisphere in 2009, and then in Manchester at the end of 2009), and both were excellent shows.

Ok, so recent album The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here isn’t quite up to the extraordinary levels of brilliance that was Black Gives Way to Blue (the album of the year for 2009), but it is by no means bad – although this show seemed to suggest perhaps not so much confidence in the album from the band, seeing as they played just two songs from it (admittedly the best two songs, Hollow and the grinding riffage of Stone). But then again, there were only two songs from the previous one, too, even if that did include finally hearing a bruising, grinding Last Of My Kind live – and it was worth the wait, too.

The rest of the set seemed to be a realisation by the band that with them having reformed, they are mainly playing to a crowd of old-school fans, who want to hear the old songs, and boy, did they deliver on that front. Old favourites, and a few unexpected gems, were rolled out to the delight of a hugely partisan crowd that bellowed back the words of just about everything, to the clear delight of the band. I suspect every fan there had their own personal favourites that got aired, but for me it was a few of the more introspective moments that really were glittering highlights, especially a heartfelt Got Me Wrong that perhaps had the loudest singalong of the night, and is one of those songs that I never quite realised was such a popular song until I saw it live.

The missing members of the band – Layne Staley and Mike Starr, both of whom succumbed to drug addictions in the end – were both nodded to in low-key dedications at the end of one song, and it was perhaps notable that Jerry and the band chose not to let the events of the past overshadow the show, instead letting the music “do the talking”. And with the depths of despair that many of the songs articulate, perhaps this is the best way – some group therapy, or something. I have to say that I was surprised to find some of Staley’s darkest songs, like Rotten Apple and Dirt, on the setlist, but perhaps enough time has now passed to be able to approach these songs in a new light.

And by the time we reached the encore, and in particular a glorious, soaring Would? (easily the most affecting song of the grunge era, in my eyes), and then the final close with the huge, huge outpouring of emotion of Rooster, it was with a sense of warmth and satisfaction that I left the venue. Bands reforming – especially ones that have lost such an integral and distinctive voice from their line-up – are not meant to be this good, it is usually a hollow reflection of what was. This is, remarkably, the sound of a band still forging forward, with an awareness of the past but also of the future.

Leave a Reply