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Alice in Chains / Jerry Cantrell at Louder than Life 2022
A bucket list band turned into a two-day extravaganza.
I already wrote about Alice in Chains once when I discussed Dirt. Go back and read it if you missed it.
Until I went to a dusty patch of dirt in Kentucky in 2022, I had never seen Alice in Chains live. It was on my bucket list of bands to see, even if I had missed them with original singer Layne Staley who passed away in 2002. The music of Alice in Chains was an inseparable part of my youth, and somehow, despite seeing so many of my favorite bands at least once, Alice in Chains had evaded me. Enter the Louder than Life festival in Louisville Kentucky in 2022 where I not only got to see Alice in Chains but I was treated to a Jerry Cantrell solo set one day before.
You might think seeing these two sets in back-to-back days is awkward. As the principal songwriter for Alice in Chains, and obviously his own solo material, the crossover could have been weird. As we watched Jerry Cantrell blast through a set including his own songs, “Atone,” and “Cut You In” it was great, but then he sprinkled in Alice in Chains songs, “Sea of Sorrow,” “Rooster,” and “Would?” as well. Filling the role of Layne Staley for Jerry Cantrell’s solo set was Greg Puciato, who I know best from the Dillinger Escape Plan. That might sound odd because Dillinger was an extreme math hardcore band with vocals that were mostly screeched and screamed. Now, as part of Jerry Cantrell’s touring act, he gets to sing his face off and does an incredible job. The question for me? If Jerry’s solo performance included “Would?” and “Rooster,” would he play them again the next night with Alice in Chains including an almost impossibly talented singer, William DuVall? Yes! Yes he would. And it was awesome.
Granted, it’s never going to be the same as seeing a Layne Staley-fronted Alice in Chains show, but it’s not a cheap replacement. I’m old, so it’s hard to think of Duvall as anything but the “new guy.” However, he’s been in the band since 2006. In 16 years, he’s established himself as a permanent member of a band that’s still pretty vital for a “greatest hits” aged act. After seeing them live and singing along to all those songs this past September, I’m a believer.
It felt as authentic as it could when I was screaming along to the third song of the set, “Them Bones.” They followed it up with “Dam That River,” and “Angry Chair” before blowing the festival grounds up with “Man in the Box.” Singing along to “Man in the Box” with Alice In Chains is an all-time moment for this man born in 1979. I was 11 when Facelift was released. I was probably 13 when I owned a copy on CD. 30 years later I finally got a chance to exercise my vocal cords. No joke, my voice was sore the next day as if I got my old band back together and performed a set.
They followed up with “Down in a Hole,” “The One You Know,” and a really peppy version of “No Excuses.” It was a festival so there weren’t any encores except for the absolute end of the night closers, but Alice in Chains didn’t disappoint. They played “Would?” to an audience who was hearing that tune for the second time in two days, but I don’t think anyone was disappointed. Finally, they left it all on the table with “Rooster.”
I’m getting goosebumps thinking about it now. That’s what it’s all about, anyway, right? Sure, it’s not Layne Staley. Sure, two different bands were playing some of the same songs in back-to-back days. Still, the fans are the same. Many of the band members are the same. The whole point is that moments of singing those songs together and experiencing them together. Alice in Chains are doing it well as the band try to get from 35 years to 40 as a band. Unfortunately (and fortunately), they’re doing it with a singer who has now been collaborating longer with Jerry Cantrell than Layne Staley did. Their three albums since Staley’s passing won’t ever live up to the original material, but it doesn’t have to. They probably wouldn’t have even if Staley had survived and continued to write music. So respect to the time that has passed and all we’ve lost, but also respect for what we still have with Jerry Cantrell, William DuVall, Mike Inez, and Sean Kinney.
If you have a chance to see them, you should. And make sure you sing until your voice hurts. If by chance you can do it two days in a row, you should do that too.