The early Nineties rock scene was dominated by the grunge movement. Ripped up jeans, thrift store clothing, long hair, Doc Martens and flannel became the style of choice. Though there were many grunge bands, most music fans knew the big five: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Stone Temple Pilots. All but STP were from Seattle. While all had varying levels of metal in their music, Alice in Chains was only slightly removed from the heavy metal that grunge replaced. Their sound was the heaviest and the sludgiest, and their lead singer Layne Staley had the most unique vocal style of the mainstream grunge bands. While three out of the five lead singers of those bands have passed over the years, Alice in Chains made the decision to carry on as a band after Staley’s death in 2002. While the new lead William DuVall does a decent job at replicating Staley’s vocal styling, Jerry Cantrell has always been the main songwriter and has shared vocal duties on most songs.
The stage at Austin’s ACL Live on Monday, September 26th was set up surprisingly sparse, with no amps onstage and just a white curtain behind the band. “Hollo” from their newest album The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here was the opening song, and besides “Stone” and a smattering of tracks from 2009’s Black Gives Way to Blue, was the only new material played. The newer material sounds very much in line with the songs from the Nineties; no radical genre changes or electronics added in as seems to be the trend with some the bands that have been around awhile. The rest of the night was appropriate dedicated to songs from their first three albums and EPs. Launching into “Them Bones” for the second song of the set had the audience in a frenzy from the get-go and continued as “Dam that River” showed the crowd that the setlist would lean heavily on songs from their breakout album Dirt. Before playing “Nutshell” from the acoustic-based Jar of Flies EP, Cantrell told the audience “We’re going to play one of Layne Staley’s songs”, which was greeted by rapturous applause. Continuing to give the audience their money’s worth, Cantrell and Co. played “Angry Chair,” “Man in the Box” and “Down in Hole” in the main set and after closing with “Junkhead” and taking a brief break. Returning minutes later, they blasted through an encore of “Rooster,” “No Excuses” and “Would?”, which had everyone singing along and a few people head banging, long hair or not.
While a venue as clean and modern as ACL Live seems an odd setting for a grunge band to play, there is no denying that the sound and view there is among the best in Austin. It was strange for a rock band to not have stacks of amps behind them, but the sound of the band was still amazing. Though DuVall’s vocals can’t quite reach the uniqueness of Staley’s, blended with Cantrell, some songs sound almost indiscernible from the originals. DuVall is also a bit more of a hype-man than you might want in a grunge band, but overall it was an excellent performance by a renowned band.