In 1990 Alice in Chains changed the face of music forever. As the Seattle Grunge scene began to take off and by all accounts become a musical movement, Alice in Chains took it a step further and introduced the world to a bit of the darker side of what the Seattle music scene had to offer. And what they gave was six years of some of the most iconic and influential music in that time and still resonates to this day.
But what shows the true power of their legacy is that here we are twenty years later, and that same music is still as powerful and meaningful today as it was over thirty-two years ago when their EP We Die Young gave them the break they needed. Since Layne Staley’s death, the soul and driving force behind Alice in Chains as well as their ongoing legacy has been Jerry Cantrell. And tonight. The fans at the Theater of Living Arts will get to experience that legacy first hand.
As the smoke begins to float through the air and the stage illuminates with saturated blue lighting, the eagerly awaiting fans waste no time voicing their overwhelming enthusiasm with thunderous chants of “JERRY, JERRY JERRY!”. Before long the house lights dim out and the cheers become almost deafening. One by one, band members start to stroll across the dimly lit stage. But as they catch a glimpse of that signature straight blonde hair coming across the stage you would have thought the Eagles just won another Super Bowl.
The lights drop out one more time before the sounds of a four count starts to ring out through the room. The last hit launches the band into Alice in Chains’ hard hitting Them Bones. Like some fans in attendance tonight, this would be my first live experience of Jerry or anything remotely authentic of Alice in Chains. And they blew me away within the first verse. The heavy riff, explosive red lights and of course those echoing yells could give you chills and really makes you realize one of the many effects that this music has on you.
Adding some additional vocal fire power is ex-Dillinger Escape Plan frontman Greg Puciato. He has the rare ability to be a vocal chameleon, letting him go anywhere with his voice. Having those matching two part harmonies is essential to any Alice in Chains song. The two would make magic together all night. The band would make a stop back to 2002’s Degradation Trip for Cantrell’s dark melodic tune Psychotic Break and right into the trance-like sounds of Alice in Chains’ Your Decision.
The title track Brighten would be the first taste of new music from Jerry Cantrell’s latest record. When you’re doing a live show just about anything can happen. After only a few verses in, Jerry realizes that Bassist George Adrian is having technical difficulties with his gear and he stops the rest of the band in their tracks. He informs the crowd “Hold on. We’re gonna do this show right for you guys.”. The crowd reacts with a mixture of cheers and laughter. “It’s live Rock & Roll folks, shit happens.”.
While the crew scrambles to get the gear up and running, Cantrell gets band introductions out of the way. But after a press of the restart button, Jerry and company give it another go. It’s hard to ignore the song’s light and upbeat feel laced around a flurry of signature Cantrell leads. The three part vocals of Jerry, Greg and George added a full rich wall of harmonies for the fans to get lost in.
Luckily fans wouldn’t have to wait long to hear more new music. Jerry Cantrell would call on the emotional ballad of Siren Song and was honestly one of my favorite songs of the night. It was hands down one of the biggest vocal powerhouses of the show that was fueled by sinister guitar riffs and ominous leads. Following the classic AIC song No Excuses Jerry would bring out singer Lola Colette to help roll out the live debut of their song Black Hearts and Evil Done. Cantrell would unload his soulful vocals all across the track and the choir-like harmonies composed of Puciato, Colette, Adrian and Jerry himself allowed the song to soar off the stage.
After Had to Know, Jerry check with the fans “Are you guys ready for what’s coming?”. At that point it was like Jerry Cantrell hit play on an Alice in Chains greatest hits cd. Kicking off the block of classics was Heaven Beside You and without hesitation rolled right through It Ain’t Like That, Check My Brain and Would? Hearing these incredible songs played live for the first time was mind blowing to say the least. This music was such a big part of my musical upbringing and to see it delivered in such an epic way was an experience I will never forget.
Before the band can fully leave the stage, those thunderous chants of “JERRY” begin to take over the room once again. Luckily for them it would only be a short wait until they would return to deliver an unbelievable encore performance. Leading off the musical extra innings would also be the leading track off of Brighten with Atone. I had wondered if this song would make the setlist and was really excited that Jerry had stored this gem for the end of the set. It really is an intoxicating track to listen to with its heavy lyrics and dark southern guitar riff and judging by the crowd’s reaction when the song ended, proved that they enjoyed it as much as I did.
Cantrell stood with the spotlight bearing down on him as he ripped a quick little solo jam before they all exploded into Alice in Chains legendary Man in the Box. The very first note had fans jumping high in the air among the sea of the head banging faithful. To say that the energy in the room was at its highest would be an understatement. That steadfast beat and Cantrell’s iconic guitar work is the driving force behind this rock locomotive and it was more than evident of its effect on the crowd. This would also be another great example of the chemistry between Greg Puciato and Jerry Cantrell and how authentic vocally they presented these songs throughout the night which is no easy task.
While Cantrell strums those memorable chords for Rooster he looks out to the crowd and says “Sing it!”. Every person under the TLA roof jumped at the chance to sing the song’s opening. But they didn’t stop there. Every second there was a word to sing or belt out with these incredible frontmen, fans’ voices filled the room and created such an amazing atmosphere to be a part of. When the song ends the applause seemed endless. But the band had one more song to give the fans.
Much like its position on Brighten, Jerry Cantrell would have his moving Elton John cover of Goodbye wrapping up tonight’s festivities. This would be the first time tonight that Jerry would be without a guitar and to be honest he wouldn’t need it. His voice on this track was more than compelling enough to captivate the crowd and would be a short and sweet parting gift to the devoted fans who packed the Theater of Living Arts to witness one of the greatest musicians of the last thirty years do what he does best.
Jerry Cantrell and this amazing group of musicians mesmerized a packed house with a stellar nineteen song set that surely filled the musical needs of all those who attended. Recently Jerry Cantrell had to announce the regrettable news that they would have to cancel dates in Florida due to someone in their camp contracted COVID-19. As much of a setback that might be, they will be carrying on with the rest of the tour. But I have no doubt that they will make it up to the fans in Florida. But for the fans outside of those dates I can promise, this is a show you are not going to want to miss!