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Alice in Chains do not disappoint as they rock Upper Darby’s Tower Theatre

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I never, ever thought this night would happen.Alice in Chains photo: www. jazzsick.wordpress.com

There was a collective sense of amazement as Alice in Chains, one of the premier rock bands of the grunge era, took the stage Saturday night at the Tower Theatre in Upper Darby.

The band brought a ton of energy and heart to the stage, despite missing much of its soul following the 2002 death of founding member and lead vocalist Layne Staley.

I patiently sat through Sacramento based two-piece opening act Middle Class Rut  from the Mezzanine high above much of the crowd. Many inside the intimate theatre setting were bursting with excitement and anticipation following Alice in Chains years of touring inactivity. Middle Class Rut lead singer/guitarist Zack Lopez, sensing the crowd’s anticipation and apathy toward his band, lambasted into the crowd during their final song, calling the crowd “lazy bastards” and insinuating that the theatre seats have reclining buttons. Not exactly the way to bond with the crowd, Zack. Let’s move on to the main act, shall we?

My dead center viewpoint had me a distant eye-to-eye with AIC lead vocalist and guitarist William DuVall, who has capably filled Staley’s role in the band, much to the amazement of many fans who thought the band would never recover. The heart and musical genius of the band, guitarist and vocalist Jerry Cantrell, introduced himself to the crowd with the crunchy opening licks of “All Secrets Known”, the first track on their latest record “Black Gives Way to Blue”, an album largely inspired by the band’s experiences, as well as Staley’s long battle with drug addiction. As Cantrell hauntingly uttered the line “There’s no going back to the place we started from”, it all began to really sink in. This band has a new lease on life and they were not going to disappoint.

Along with longtime bassist Mike Inez and drummer and founding member Sean Kinney, Cantrell and DuVall emerged from beneath a curtain silhouette to the delight of the spirited audience. Tracks from their highly successful 1992 album “Dirt” were featured throughout the set, including favorites such as “Them Bones”, “Angry Chair”, and “Rain When I Die”, a song perfectly fit for the weather outside.

To the delight of the AIC fans, the band charged through less mainstream tracks such as “It Ain’t Like That” off 1990’s album debut “Facelift”, as well as personal favorite of mine, “Nutshell” off of 1994’s acoustic EP “Jar of Flies”. In addition, the band peppered in additional acoustic based favorites “Got Me Wrong” and “Your Decision”, the latest hit release off of “Black Gives Way to Blue”.

Aside from these few tracks, the entire night was littered with a heavy metal dose of power and intensity. From the dark riffs and booming drums of “Sickman” to the hook of their anthem “Man in the Box”, the crowd was alive and well the entire night, grasping for more. There simply could not be enough.

As the band returned to the stage for a two song encore, they ripped into their classic hit “Would?”, which may have been the song of the night. They then closed with “Rooster”, a song written about the war veteran father of Jerry Cantrell. But on this night, in this theatre, it seemed a fitting end for a band that’s ability to combine harmony and metal is what sets them apart from so many others. As DuVall tactfully closed the show by shouting “No, no, no, you know he ain’t gonna die”, it provided a perfect bookend to the emotion of the evening.

He ain’t gonna die. Layne Staley’s soul lives on inside of these four men. I am just grateful to have been there.

** Alice in Chains will be back playing in the Philadelphia area on May 23rd at the WMMR*B*Q at the Susquehanna Bank Center. Tickets are on sale now.

Setlist:

  1. All Secrets Known
  2. It Ain't Like That
  3. Again
  4. Check My Brain
  5. Them Bones
  6. Dam That River
  7. Rain When I Die
  8. Your Decision
  9. Got Me Wrong
  10. We Die Young
  11. A Looking In View
  12. Nutshell
  13. Sickman
  14. Dirt
  15. Last of My Kind
  16. Angry Chair
  17. Man In A Box

Encore: 

  1. Would?
  2. Rooster

Ryan Downs can be contacted at rdowns@philly2philly.com