Kick starting tonight’s proceedings (pun intended) was the tour support Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, an American rock band from California and a band that have been around since the late 90’s… so 10 years or so after the inception of the headliners. I’m not going to lie here, I knew very little about them before going to this show, going off only what drunk rockers have told me in pubs beforehand.
We got in after the obligatory queue wait and BRMC had already started. From the foyer first thoughts were “god this sounds dull as shit” – not a great start. However, by the time we got served our extremely overpriced arena pints and got to the seats we could see and hear more what the band were about – a classic American rock ‘n’ roll sound. It was difficult to see how the crowd truly reacted to BRMC as we were sitting pretty high up, but what was apparent was an initial lack of crowd participation other than traditional applause after each track. I recall complimenting a couple of their tracks and to my surprise described them to my accomplice as ‘Oasis meets Classic Rock’ mainly due to the style of the vocal delivery – although I’m sure die hard BRMC heads would without doubt challenge this comparison!. The further they got into their set the more the audience seemed to warm to it, heads nodding, a few fists in the air and remnants of some ZZ-Top inspired guitar riffs – now that’d get anyone bopping about surely?
BRMC’s set ended on a high with the sublime dirt of ‘Spread your love’ all wailing guitar, distorted bass, catchy riffs and vocal hooks…not to mention some sweet ass Harmonica thrown in to add to the flavour. Definitely the highlight of the bands set and instigating a great send off from an appreciative midlands crowd, before the waiting really began for 8,000+ expectant AIC fans…
Alice In Chains made an impressionable entrance, opening with ‘Bleed the Freak’ and receiving a immediate reaction from their brum audience – and they don’t half appreciate their guitar music here in the midlands, a region of the UK that has always taken rock bands of all genres warmly to their collective bosoms.
Going straight into ‘Check My Brain’ and the crowd were already hypnotised. The heads and fists were going, with indicators of a mosh pit appearing. This was to be a night of audience participation from start to finish, constantly cheering for more the instant the music stopped – something that didn’t actually happen until after song three when William DuVall began engaging with the audience with founding member Jerry Cantrell hyping up the crowd inbetween songs. The strength of the set continued to grow with the eruption of said 8000 voices when the intro of ‘Them Bones’ fired up – beers flying, mosh now pit in full effect and even a few crowd surfers.
At this point its worth putting some focus on drummer Sean Kinney – people tend to overlook drummers and the quality and impact they add to a band, but Kinney is one of those exceptions, playing with power and precision and a technique that makes every drumbeat seem effortlessly elegant.
Returning to the set, it was developing into a running order that really kept an educated fanbase on their toes. Not sticking to a standard formula it seemed like there was no way things were slowing down with the band playing hits from every long playing release until they went into ‘Heaven Beside You’ off their self-titled 1995 album. Even through this drop tempo track, the faithful still erupted in song and found a way to expel energy during the guitar solo as the tune grew gradually heavier.
Continuing with mammoth offerings like ‘We Die Young and ‘Angry Chair’ and inbetween dropping the mood again with the heart clenching ‘Nutshell’ – the point where the arena lights up with the now standard phone torches and lighters swaying back and forth – before finally leaving the stage after performing effervescent firm favourite ‘Man in the Box’.
Noticeably at this point they had only played 3 tracks from their new album ‘Rainer Fog’ and all the pre-millennial tracks were performed to perfection. However the performance of the older tracks, combined with the new album offerings truly showed die-hard elitists that DuVall has what it takes to provide them with an incredibly rooted Alice in Chains album. After listening to this album there should be no doubt that he is an Alice in Chains member and brings raw talent to the group.
Re-emerging for the encore the band showed nothing but humble respect for the audience and seemed to genuinely appreciate the support they had received from the Birmingham turnout. Performing a surprisingly long encore of 4 songs (for which there was to be no complaints from this audience) they opened with ‘The One You Know’ (the 4th offering from their most recent album) before continuing with ‘Got Me Wrong’ followed by the fantastically anthemic ‘Would?’ during which you hear an arena of voices reciting in unison… before ending the night with their now infamous ‘Rooster’.
This was a hugely successful night for Alice in chains. From the choice of support act to the band’s 21 track setlist, I can’t see any Chains fan going home disappointed with either that performance or the song choices. I’d go as far as to urge anyone who hasn’t been to see Alice in Chains, or any old-school sceptics who say ‘it’s not the same without Layne Staley’ – Give them a shot, I guarantee if you open your mind just a little, you will be pleasantly surprised.