Show Review: Alice In Chains and Creature with the Atom Brain at The Fox Oakland, 2/11/2010

by Jonathan Pirro on February 12, 2010

Alice In Chains from the balcony of the Fox Theater

Alice In Chains from the balcony of the Fox Theater

When last we left Oakland’s gorgeous Fox Theater, it was at the close of Wolfmother’s final screaming shreds. Two Disney concerts, two Norman Buffalo tribute shows, and one Temptations concert later, the Fox Theater needed to start its new year (having been open since February ’09) off with a bang. It therefore comes as little surprise that the grunge monsters of Alice In Chains were selected as just the right band for the task.

In the two times that I have seen Alice In Chains (both with new singer William DuVall; I was never lucky enough to see the original band with Layne Staley), their openers have ranged from decently-uninteresting to absolutely terrible. My expectations for Creature With The Atom Brain, therefore, were rather low; thankfully, the group, which hails from Belgium, put on an impressive set. Their sound seems to settle somewhere between some of Seattle’s darker grunge — the headliners aside, early Soundgarden comes to mind also — and the wall-of-noise alternative sludginess of The Jesus And Mary Chain or The Black Angels. While most of the songs had a more rock-ish feel, there were moments of almost-droning darkness that was heavy, eerie, but also jammy; the last two songs of their set each went on for over 7 minutes.

When first entering the Fox Theater tonight, one would quickly notice the black sheets draped behind the opening band’s equipment; what WAS unusual, however, was when a SECOND sheet (translucent white in color) was dropped over the entire stage. Halfway through the setup, the black-and-blue heart that adorns the front cover of Alice In Chains’ new album, Black Gives Way To Blue, was projected onto the sheet; the very image caused roars of approval throughout the entire theater. Once the lights dimmed, a massive heartbeat echoed from the soundsystem, which the heart “beat” in time with, drowning out even the ecstatic crowd. The moment had arrived at last.

While I initially felt a sting of disappointment at the instant that Alice In Chains’ set began — they opened with “All Secrets Known”, the opening track from their aforementioned new record, of which I am not a very big fan — this was washed away immediately as the stage lights faded into view. Keeping the massive sheet between the stage and the audience, bright yellow lights pulsed in a slow revolution behind the band members, casting gigantic, haunting shadows that towered over the stunned crowd. (This is an absolutely brilliant effect, for anyone who has not experienced it; aspiring bands take note, this will instantly win me over if you do this at your show.)

The second moment of satisfaction occurred when the sheet dropped about 30 seconds into the opening number, revealing Alice In Chains in all of their glory. Specifically, I was extremely pleased to see Jerry Cantrell taking center stage, singing lead vocals as well as churning out his dark, relentless riffs. (The song grew on me as a result of this evening’s performance.) The band wasted hardly any time between songs; within moments of the final notes of their first piece, they tore into “It Ain’t Like That” and the floor exploded with life.

The band played an extremely solid set, pulling mostly from their old classics but throwing in a few new songs and some random curve balls. I have previously said that Alice In Chains’ new album doesn’t rub me the right way, but I say this because I wasn’t able to pick up on distinctive riffs or hooks that their hits have always possessed. Hearing the new songs in a live setting helped significantly to better my enjoyment of them; “Your Decision” made for a beautiful ballad, while “Acid Bubble” was one of the heaviest songs of the night.

The stage was not altogether super-elaborate, but was certainly much more showy than the average performer that rolled through the Fox Theater in 2009. There was another large sheet draped behind the band, onto which was projected various animations; most of these involved skeletons, bodies, and disembodied lyrics from the current song being played. Sean Kinney’s drumset was bordered by a set of miniature metal catwalks, which DuVall and bassist Mike Inez wandered around during most of Cantrell’s wailing solos. It was just the right amount of spectacle for the band — not too over-the-top and arena-worthy as they might have been in their heyday, and not too small to be shoved into the “club show” paradigm.

One of the real treats of the night was to be found in the band’s encore (which was preceded by a violent tussle in the crowd as Inez, DuVall and Cantrell threw nearly ALL of their picks into the crowd before the pre-encore walk-off). In addition to the closers of the night — “Would?” and “Rooster” — the encore began with an epic performance of “Love, Hate, Love” which thundered through the theater for nearly ten solid minutes. Despite already being a very dark song in the first place, this was easily the most eerie part of the evening; you could almost feel a collective release of breath from the crowd (in addition to the screaming, of course) when the lights finally snapped off at its end.

I have always loved Alice In Chains, but in recent years have been wary of their new development and songwriting work. I still maintain that Black Gives Way To Blue is not as triumphant a return as it could be (the production quality of the album probably causes some of that disappointment), but hearing and seeing its songs performed live has given me a better sense of appreciation for it. As for the rest of their set, I will always love the classic work of Alice In Chains; the selections for tonight were no exception, and I eagerly await their return to see what new ghosts they may revive.

Alice In Chains' setlist

Alice In Chains' setlist

All photos by Jonathan Pirro.

Jonathan Pirro

Off-kilter multimedia enthusiast.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Doug February 12, 2010 at 3:12 pm

Well, I will agree with you that they had a solid set. The fact that you need hooks says a lot about what you really listen to. Are you kidding me, Check my brain isn’t “hooky” enough for you? Alice in Chains once again displayed their true colors, staying true to playing hard edged melodic, but technical music. Jerry is one of the best guitar players in the last 25 years. Alice did a killer show, and will not be stopped on any level. My only complaint, the show seemed way too short. I would have stayed until 4am to hear more. Lets face it, Alice saved music from the 80’s, redefined metal for the 90’s and today, they are the band to beat, but good luck trying. Their new album is awesome, and has that same dark beauty as with their other albums. Forget hooks, they’re for fish, pick up a guitar and learn a few of their songs before you criticize them.

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Andy Smyth February 12, 2010 at 4:26 pm

First time I heard the new album, it didn’t grab me like I hoped it would. Since then it’s been growing on me, and the live performace of the new material
really cemented how rock solid the tunes are.

I agree, that shadow behind the sheet is a fantastic effect, especially once it drops…riveting.
Totally dig the psychadelic stage lighting and background.
They played pretty much all the hits and then some.

That “Live Hate Love” performance was chilling, indeed.

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Jane May 26, 2010 at 6:20 am

Was an awesome show. I’m just thankful AIC still exists. I’m sick of hearing everyone criticise DuVall. Yes of course we miss Layne, but he’s the closest they will ever find to a good replacement.

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