By Niki D'Andrea
Better than: Killing your idols.
Bottom line: Alice In Chains blew Velvet Revolver off the stage.
I was expecting the opposite: I was skeptical about Alice In Chains touring without singer Layne Staley (who died of an apparent drug overdose in April, 2002), but I knew that Velvet Revolver included 2/5 of the original Guns 'N' Roses (Slash and Duff McKagan), as well as ex-Stone Temple Pilots singer Scott Weiland, and former drummer of The Cult and G 'N' R, Matt Sorum (one of the best drummers in the world today, in my humble opinion). I fully expected Alice In Chains to blunder through their best songs with some inferior vocalist, and for Velvet Revolver to rock the house.
I was wrong on both counts. Alice In Chains, the opening act (!), was absolutely amazing. To say that I -- and everyone else at Cricket Wireless Pavilion -- was impressed would be an understatement. When the band started playing, I was actually in the bathroom, and I remember (sincerely) thinking, "Are they playing an Alice In Chains CD? This sounds exactly like Layne Staley singing."
So I rushed from the commode, screaming "Holy shit!" and trying to get a look at the singer as I made my way to my seat.
Alice In Chains: The Next AC/DC? I was apparently seated in the pot smoking section, as two people behind me (and one in front of me) were smoking joints, one to the left of me was hitting a pipe, and another in front of me was blazing a big ol' blunt. Within minutes, I was buzzing off a contact high. Who needs to bring drugs to a concert when you can inhale the illegalities of others?
Through blurry eyes, I observed the man onstage with Alice In Chains. He looked like a cross between Lenny Kravitz and Jimi Hendrix, wearing a black and reddish-orange, Thriller-style leather jacket. He looked nothing like Layne Staley. But those rangy vocal harmonies; those low, accented notes; the gritty screams...if I hadn't known Layne Staley was dead, I'd have sworn he was on stage, sporting a 'fro with some jheri curls and singing with Alice In Chains again.
But this wasn't Staley, of course. The amazing performer currently on tour with Alice In Chains is named William DuVall. DuVall is the singer and guitarist of a band named Comes With The Fall, which I've never heard of, but will certainly seek out now. Not only does DuVall have a great voice, but his stage presence is commanding without being effusive/annoying (hello, Scott Weiland!). When DuVall belted out the lyrics to "Rooster" (the last song in the band's hour-long opening set), I could see the muscles working and the veins bulging in his neck. I could feel the sincerity of DuVall's desire to give the fans what they wanted -- which was Alice In Chains, not some new guy just singing Alice In Chains songs. And DuVall pulled it off -- unlike many bands that lose their singers and replace them with different vocalists to sing the old tunes, this band never sounded like a cover band. And guitarist Jerry Cantrell nailed every note with creepy, distorted precision.
William DuVall, currently touring and flooring with Alice In Chains.
While I took deep breaths, the band blazed through a handful of gems from AIC's catalogue, including "Them Bones," "No Excuses," "Angry Chair," "Man in the Box," and "Would?"
If nothing else, Alice In Chains' current tour will remind people of two things: 1) Jerry Cantrell is a great guitarist and a sublime songwriter, and 2) Alice In Chains made a lot of great tunes that continue to stand the test of time. People were jumping up and down, pumping their fists, screaming, and singing along to every song. The band got a standing ovation that seemed to last for about five minutes.
According to Alice In Chains' official Web site, the band plans to begin work on a new album (with DuVall) after the tour. I can't wait. Could Alice In Chains be the next AC/DC?
Some post-set quotes from friends I ran into at the show:
"Oh my god, that was amazing. If I closed my eyes, it was just like being at a show when Layne was alive."
"We saw what we came to see. We're leaving now."
"How in the hell is Velvet Revolver going to follow that act?"
Velvet Revolver: Gimme Back My Bullets! Poor Velvet Revolver. They violated two Rules of Rock: 1) Never book an opening band whose passion and song catalogue is superior to yours, and 2) Thou shalt not let Scott Weiland prance around with a damn megaphone, to the detriment of Slash's guitar volume.
Honestly, I still love the music of Stone Temple Pilots. Weiland sounds great on record, and when I saw STP live about seven years ago, he sounded pretty good. Tonight, he didn't sound so great. He wasn't off-key all the time, but heaven couldn't help him hit high notes. I actually squinted and grimaced a couple of times. But the visual was the real problem -- Weiland is a performer of the flamboyant, swivelin'-hips type, a skinny strutter who wears schtuff like oversized sunglasses and bulky white fur coats onstage (word to Weiland -- we're in the desert, dude). He's perpetually gyrating, Jagger-style, and this makes him look effeminate and arrogant, which may be why my friend Bones said, "Men don't like him, and women don't think he's sexy."
Slash's guitar was barely audible over the bass drum and Weiland's wig-outs with the megaphone. The latter's a vocal prop leftover from his STP days that looks superficial at this point and doesn't audibly add anything to the songs. The sound wasn't horrible (I have heard worse), but for a band that hyped its stage entrance with NWA's "Straight Outta Compton," it was pretty tame. They were drizzling through the songs behind Weiland's shaking ass, and I felt like I was sitting in on sound check.
His guitar playing's not just for decoration anymore. Slash's amp shoulda gone to 11.
Two songs into the set, one of my friends nearby asks me, "Is it just me, or does this sound like shit?"
No, bro, it wasn't just you. A couple minutes later, I get this text message from some friends seated in another section:
"Not realy imprest... we r headin out."
One song later, another text message, this one from photographer Luke Holwerda:
"Takin off now actually. Someone tossed a beer or something at me. Im callin it for the evening." (Luke's photos later revealed that he’d actually been hit with some Slash spit).
All around us, people are filing out of the show. I notice my friend Bones looks bored and has quickly guzzled the last of her beer, so I offer, "I'm ready to head out when you are."
Bones shrugs. "Hell, let's go. We gave 'em a shot."
So, less than five songs into Velvet Revolver's set, we left. As we head for the car, I tell Bones, "Man, Alice In Chains should have headlined that show."
"Actually, I'm kind of glad they didn't headline," Bones says. "Or we'd have had to sit through Velvet Revolver's set."
Personal bias: The sums of Guns 'N' Roses and Stone Temple Pilots will always be greater than their parts.
Random detail: Traffic on the I-10 West was thick getting to the show, and all "baseball traffic" was advised to exit on 7th Avenue.
Check out Luke Holwerda's photos of Velvet Revolver in our slide show!