It’s no surprise that it took both the band and the audience several songs before either was able to relax and mutually enjoy the enormity of what took place Monday evening at Avalon. The club was packed, with little space to either move or breathe, by 8:30 p.m. as fans awaited the reunited Alice in Chains, with Comes with the Fall’s William DuVall replacing deceased front man Layne Stanley.
The audience was almost entirely longtime fans of the band, which comes as no surprise given the fact that the show sold out in under an hour during the presale on the Alice in Chains fan community website, and the question of the evening was, “How much did you pay for your ticket?”
There was a palpable tension in the air as fans eagerly anticipated what the show would be like. Despite the ongoing Red Sox versus Yankees game across the street, conversation consisted of recounts of past shows, and as the band’s crew sound-checked the instruments the man behind me remarked, “It’s like waiting for Jesus!” Fans seemed almost to prepare themselves for the inevitable disappointment the show would offer in the absence of Layne Stanley.
The irony of the situation is that, though Layne Stanley overdosed on a lethal mixture of heroine and cocaine in 2002, the band didn’t perform together within the last few years he was alive. Their last live performance was opening for KISS in 1996, and their last headlining tour dates back to the early 90s, despite gaining commercial success from four consecutive Top Ten albums. Staley’s addiction to heroin, which spanned most of the bands career, simultaneously inspired Alice in Chains’ music, making them one of the bands that defined Seattle’s early 90s grunge scene – even as it prevented them from reaching their true potential. After the tragic death of Stanley’s girlfriend in 1996, he retreated from the music world almost completely, leaving guitarist Jerry Cantrell as the primary driving force behind the band’s success.
The reunion tour has been much-hyped and much anticipated, so it was surprising that Cantrell, bassist Mike Inez, drummer Sean Kinney, and guest vocalist DuVall strolled casually onstage Monday evening, overtly lacking grand-scale introduction or effects. The first few songs were a dialogue between the audience and the band that went something like this:
Alice in Chains: This is our guest vocalist, William DuVall. He’s not Layne, but he’s a rocking performer and he knows how to sing our songs the right way.
Audience: We’re not sure what we think of this Layne Stanley imposter, but we do love Jerry. Jerry! Jerry!
Alice in Chains: Give William a chance. Without him we wouldn’t be onstage, performing like the grunge gods we are.
Audience: Ok, we’ll pretend its 1992 and sing along, but only because we haven’t been to an Alice in Chains concert in a decade and we’re desperate to scream the lyrics to “Would?” and see Mike Inez swirl around his curly mane.
William DuVall is not Layne Stanley, that’s a given, but he’s wasn’t trying to be. He asserted himself as lead vocalist, seizing the microphone and kneeling onstage to look audience members directly in the eye as he confidently crooned “Rain When I Die” and “Dam That River.”
Fans belted out lyrics with DuVall, tentatively at first, then emphatically, as though proving their devotion to the band, gradually adding in fist-pumps until a full-on mosh pit formed near the front of the stage, crowd surfing commenced, and everyone was intoxicated with the band’s undeniable energy. Midway through the show DuVall finally asked “You with us now?” and in response to the audience’s cheers of approval commented, “You [expletive] rock man, that’s for sure.” The band took off, launching through nearly all of Alice in Chains’ most well known songs, including “Rooster,” “Down In a Hole,” and “What the Hell Have I.”
Cantrell and Kinney each performed instrumental solos with the ease and talent of the grunge veterans they are, as though no time had passed since their last tour. The set lasted for over an hour before the band exited and then returned to the stage, cigarettes and bottle of Crown Royal in hand, to perform a 25-minute encore. During the final song, “Man in a Box,” the 1991 debut single that brought them to fame and arguably the most well known Alice in Chains tune, the lights came up over the audience and DuVall instructed everyone to sing. The show’s climactic ending contrasted with its anticlimactic opening, and fans seemed to leave satisfied with the reunion- though only loosely defined- of the seminal grunge band.