On a stormy night in Austin, TX, where thunder boomed overhead at the Moody Theater, Alice in Chains rocked the sold-out crowd at ACL Live. Touring in support of their latest album, “Rainier Fog,” the band, for one night, brought back ’90s alt-rock.
Starbenders, the opening act, was a welcome surprise. Their music is reminiscent of ‘70s glam rock and a perfect lead in to the main act. A band I highly recommend seeing, Starbenders released their new LP “Julian” in January.
Selling over 20 million records made Alice in Chains one of the most successful bands to come out of Seattle. Bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden popularized the grunge sound. Alice in Chains, on the other hand, was different—incorporating heavier metal elements.
In 1996, the band went on hiatus. In a later interview, drummer Sean Kinney reflected back on that decision. “When you stop when you have two #1 records, it’s not really the greatest career move – but we did that because we love each other and we didn’t want to die in public.” Kinney went on to say, “I know for a fact in my heart that if we were to continue that I wouldn’t be on the phone right now talking to you. I wouldn’t have made it. I just wouldn’t have.” In 2002, six years after the band took their hiatus, their original lead singer Layne Staley lost his battle with drug addiction. In 2011, original bassist Mike Starr passed away from a drug overdose.
Ten years after announcing their hiatus, the band reformed in 2006 with new lead singer William Duvall. In 2008 they released “Black Gives Way to Blue” and followed it up in 2013 with “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here,” which was nominated for a Grammy in 2014. In August of this year, Alice in Chains released “Rainier Fog,” an album which pays homage to the band’s hometown of Seattle and includes the singles “The One You Know,” and “So Far Down.” The album’s tracks also include “Never Fade,” which is dedicated to Layne Staley, Soundgarden lead singer Chris Cornell and Duvall’s grandmother. (Both Cornell and Duvall’s grandmother died during the songwriting process.)
The band took to the stage at the Moody Theater as the house lights went down, and the driving guitar riff of “Check My Brain” started the show. Over two hours, the band played through their catalog of hits including “Them Bones,” “Again,” and “Man in the Box.” They also played “Nutshell,” an emotional song dealing with death, which in past shows has been dedicated to former members Layne Staley, Mike Starr and recently deceased Vinnie Paul of Pantera. The guys left the stage briefly as the crowd cheered, demanding an encore, which they got. The encore included “The One You Know,” and classic fan favorites “Got Me Wrong,” “Would” and “Rooster.”
Alice in Chains’ music is mostly dark and full of songs about despair and being lonely. The surviving members have experienced losing their friends and brothers over the years, but there was surprisingly a lot of positive energy amongst the bandmates on this Austin night. They appeared to truly enjoy not only playing their new songs, but also honoring their past with the old songs to keep that legacy alive. Watching the band perform without Layne may leave a void for some people, yet William Duvall and guitarist Jerry Cantrell did an amazing job respecting and honoring the past, while also moving forward. “In life, a lot of time is about finding your family, and it’s not blood family. I found my family,” Cantrell told Rolling Stone in a recent interview.
Cover photo Alice in Chains lead singer William Duvall | Brian Maass
Native Austinite Brian Maass has long had a passion for music and movies, and is now bringing that same passion to the world of photography. @maass_brian and brian_maass_photographer