Over the Weekend: Alice in Chains, Puddle of Mudd and Chevelle at Nokia Theatre

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Alice in Chains, Puddle of Mudd, Chevelle

Nokia Theatre, Grand Prairie
October 23, 2009

Better than: your lame family reunion.

After five hours of mind-numbing, mediocre music at Friday's Freakers Ball at Nokia Theatre, the night's redeeming moment came when Alice in Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell invited his dad, Jerry Sr., on stage during the encore.

There, right before the unbelieving eyes of loyal fans, was the man immortalized by his rock star son as the Rooster.

The band dedicated "Rooster," arguably one of the best rock songs about war, to "all the roosters out there" serving their country.

Jerry Sr. earned the nickname during his Army tour in Vietnam, an experience he rarely, if ever, discussed with his son.

None of the other Freakers Ball bands came close to matching the performance delivered by Alice in Chains.As drummer Sean Kinney told Reuters last summer, "We're not really [about] the fast-cars-and-chicks songs."

The other bands were, though: Puddle of Mudd's Wes Scantlin swaggered and spit and swore and gulped Southern Comfort like Kid Rock's younger brother. ("There's nothing like drinkin' Southern Comfort in Texas!" he told the crowd. Um, OK.) Chevelle turned out a solid set, but all that came before was forgotten when Cantrell and company stepped on stage and launched into "Rain When I Die."

When Alice in Chains decided to record a new album with singer William DuVall, fan reaction ranged from cautiously optimistic to downright angry. The suspicion was justified--dozens of aging legends have engineered disappointing comebacks. Alice in Chains seemed pretty much done after founding member and lead singer Layne Staley died of a heroin and cocaine overdose after years of drug abuse.

"Do you take the Led Zeppelin approach and never play again, because the guy was that important?" Cantrell told MTV in 2006, four years after Staley's death. "But it's not about separating and forgetting. It's about remembering and moving on."

Alice in Chains has moved on--and yet its haven't. The title track of the band's newest album, Black Gives Way to Blue, was written for Staley. Cantrell says he "coughed up a big chunk of grief" while recording it. Sir Elton John provides the backing piano, making it the least AIC-like song on the album. Apart from "Black Gives Way to Blue," the rest of the album is a continuation of the band's signature hard-on-the-guitars sound and wailing, elongated vocals. The first single, "Check My Brain," harkens back to the metal-tinged rock that populated the band's last effort, 1995's Tripod.

While Staley is irreplaceable, DuVall fits comfortably into the Alice in Chains culture. DuVall has a punk and metal background, along with a philosophy degree and an afro. (The first thing Cantrell said to him when they met was "Cool hair!") Over the last decade, DuVall's band has backed up Cantrell's solo tours, and in 2006 DuVall began touring with Alice in Chains. It was a long audition process, but make no mistake: Jerry Cantrell knows what he's doing.

"Man in the Box" was included on the heavy-on-classics set list, along with "Them Bones," "Dam That River," "Angry Chair," "Would," "We Die Young," and "Nutshell." The band's seamless chemistry was refreshingly apparent; of course, Cantrell and Kinney and bassist Mike Inez have played together for more years than most of the teenage fans in the crowd have been alive. Cantrell and DuVall also harmonize a lot like Cantrell and Staley did. Between songs, DuVall mostly mumbled incoherently into the mic, but no one really cared. The pit, which didn't seem too rowdy from above, stayed packed for the entire set.

Notably missing were "Down in a Hole" and "I Stay Away," but realistically, Alice in Chains could play a three-hour set and still not hit all the high points. But they promised to come back soon.

I hope so.

Critic's Notebook
Personal bias:
I was 13 when Tripod came out, so the closest I came to seeing AIC live was on MTVs Unplugged. The stars finally lined up Friday night, and it was amazing to finally see the band in person, even without Staley. Jerry Cantrell is one of the best living guitarists. Period.

Random Note: This night was dubbed the Freakers Ball, so there were plenty of people wearing freakily disturbing costumes. My favorite was a rather benign get-up on a woman who paired the classic Alice in Wonderland blue dress with white chains. Get it?!?!?!

By the Way: I dug Puddle of Mudd's cover of Steve Miller Band's "The Joker." But even better was that someone thought to play Richard Cheese's version of "She Hates Me" right after PoM's set.

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