Review: Alice In Chains – Telegraph Building, Belfast
It’s always a gamble when you see a band you loved in your youth. Nostalgia is great and all, but very often the years aren’t kind to the vocal chords or else the rock n roll lifestyle has taken its toll. But in the case of Alice In Chains there is more behind that- they have lost one of their seminal members and most recognisable voice. Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell together made magic prior to the former’s untimely death in 2002, so whoever joined the band would have big shoes to fill. So when Alice In Chains came to play Belfast I wanted to go for the memories yet was somewhat hesitant.
Nevertheless, I ventured along to what seemed to be the hottest ticket in town for this completely sold out show in the Telegraph Building. Stripped back, concrete and industrial it is a fitting venue for one of the ‘Big Four’ of Grunge.
For local band Wynona Bleach it is a somewhat of a coup to land the support slot to such a major act and seems further proof of their rising star. Frontwoman Melyssa Shannon‘s voice is well able for the size of the Telegraph building and the band shine with songs like ‘Eyes Burning’ and ‘Sugar’ and get people warmed up for the main event.
When Alice In Chains finally take the stage and kick off with ‘Bleed The Freak,’ the crowd are at fever pitch. It’s a shaky start though for the band and they seem at times out of sync with each other. This continues through ‘Check My Brain’ then by ‘Again’ they seemed to have found their rhythm together finally.
‘Them Bones’ with its driving guitar riff leading to a solo gives Jerry Cantrell a chance to show off his axe skills and prompts the first chants of the night of ‘JERRY! JERRY!’ from the fanboys behind me. ‘Dam That River’ sees frontman William DuVall interact with the crowd and take centre stage. DuVall has a great rock voice which fits the band without impersonating Staley and he can really hold his own as a front man.
This is shines through on ‘Heaven Beside You’ with its harmonies weaving throughout the song. ‘Rainier Fog’, the title track of the newest album is up next and,, while it sits well in the set and is a punchy song, there is just something missing. ‘No Excuses’ was a highlight and Sean Kinney’s drumming was on form, evoking memories of the now legendary MTV AIC Unplugged session from the 1990’s.
Throughout the guitar solo the floor of the Telegraph building is packed with (mostly) 30 something men noodling on their air guitars. ‘Stone’ from 2013’s The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here gets a quick run through followed by ‘Red Giant’ of Rainier Fog and I have to be honest, this is where they lose me. Although their newer material is good, it just doesn’t hit the spot for me at all and seems very sludgy at times.
Thanking the crowd profusely Cantrell is hit by another wave of ‘JERRY! JERRY!’ so much so it drowns out him dedicating the next track to Layne Staley and Mike Starr, which is of course ‘Nutshell’ and suddenly the Telegraph building is transformed into a sea of lit up phones (with the odd traditional lighter in the air) and everyone sings along in what is a magical moment. This was my highlight of the night.
Then we are slap bang in a run of old Alice In Chains tracks with ‘Angry Chair’ following next. As good as DuVall is, it is hard not to make comparisons to Staley on such iconic songs as this although most of the crowd just seem happy to get a chance to sing along. ‘Man in a Box’ gets one of the best receptions of the night as the screens behind the band play visuals of incarcerated men. Released in 1990 it is as powerful and fresh today with Mike Inez’s bass rumbling throughout, anchoring the sound amid the soaring voices of the audience. Cantrell humbly thanks the crowd once again and they leave the stage to thundering applause.
The house lights go down and once again the chants of ‘JERRY! JERRY!’ start up from the crowd, eager to hear more from the 4 piece. After a solid 5 minutes of chanting the band stride back onto the stage with DuVall shouting ‘I guess you want some more!’ as they dive straight back into it with ‘The One You Know’.
‘Got Me Wrong ‘ is up next inspiring another sing along from all of us, with varying success of harmonies! The disappointment of the night has to go to ‘Would?’ which started out promising but became ramshackle, a bit wobbly and seemed to be too slow and clunky.
For the final time the chants of ‘JERRY! JERRY!’ began and at times throughout the gig the sound seemed to falter and yet at other times it was massive so I’m not sure if this was due to where I stood in the crowd but it was distracting from what was otherwise a great gig.
For the final time the chorus of ‘JERRY! JERRY!’ began from the crowd and Cantrell, taking it in his stride bowed and dedicated the final song, ‘Rooster’, to ‘ Jerry Senior’ ,his old man.
All In all, it was a really good gig, and a hell of a nostalgia trip. And I know, I know, I shouldn’t compare Alice In Chains of 1995 to Alice In Chains of 2019 but it is so difficult not to and I struggled with this throughout the show. As a band, Alice In Chains are brilliant and their new material heavy and bombastic but I just cannot get past the old Alice In Chains of Staley and Cantrell so while it was amazing to finally hear some of my favourite songs played live I can’t help but feel that I have finally put grunger in me to rest.