Alice In Chains, Billy Idol, Heart and others
If the riffs are the same and the vocals sound strikingly familiar, is it still the same band? Last night at the Eighth Annual MusiCares MAP Fund Benefit Concert benefit at Club Nokia, the reformed Alice In Chains put that question to the test.
After singer Layne Staley died of a heroin overdose in 2002, people thought that the Seattle-derived grunge and metal band were finished. But founding guitarist and main songwriter Jerry Cantrell had other ideas. He reformed the act in 2006 and in 2009 they put out their first studio album in 15 years, Black Gives Way To Blue, with William DuVall taking Staley's place. The album was a commercial success, and introduced the hard rock outfit to a different generation of fans who may not have been as familiar with their early material.
Diehards may dismiss this incarnation, sans Staley and founding bassist Mike Starr, who also died of an overdose in 2011, but for our money as long as they've got Cantrell's brooding riffs and expansive guitar textures -- along with the dual melodic vocal harmonies that define the group's sound -- they're still Alice In Chains.
Now sober nine years, Cantrell along with Neil Lasher were honored by the MusiCares MAP Fund for their commitment to helping addicts with the addiction and recovery process. After a somber acceptance speech where he addressed his stormy past before telling the audience that "we really miss Layne and Mike," Cantrell led Alice In Chains through a five-song acoustic set that was reminiscent of their original Unplugged setup from 1996, down to the way the candles were carefully placed around them.
Replacing a singer whose voice is so intricately associated with a band is daunting, but not impossible. This incarnation of Alice In Chains has been performing together for half a decade, and it's clear that DuVall is up to the task.
Songs like "No Excuses," "Got Me Wrong" and "Would?" retain the angst that defined them in the early '90s, even in a subdued setting; it's clear they haven't changed the formula.
Meanwhile, Heart, Billy Idol, Duff McKagen's Loaded and Mark Lanegan also performed. The former Guns N' Roses bassist served as the unofficial musical coordinator for the evening. Highlights included a Heart/Loaded collaboration on a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Dead Flowers," and Idol's three-song greatest hits package, which had fans in the balcony bouncing up and down.
But the evening belonged to Alice in Chains, and it's clear that by soldiering ahead -- they're currently recording a new album -- they have no intention of becoming a nostalgia act.
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Critical Bias: One of my few regrets was not seeing Alice in Chains with Staley, but if this the closest thing to that, I'm not going to kvetch.
The Crowd: A hodgepodge of industry bigwigs, recovering addicts, fans and close friends of the honorees.
Random Notebook Dump: Seeing the principal from Ferris Bueller's Day Off waiting in line for tickets was pretty cool.