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Alice in Chains

July 12, 2016

Paramount Theater, Denver, CO


The 90s are coming back!” has been the common refrain of cultural trendwatchers seemingly since, well, the year 2000. With the decade more than 15 years in our cracked rear view (Hootie and the Blowfish reference for the win!), this moment may be the right time for the decade of Pogs, Jncos, and coastal rap feuds to triumphantly reemerge into the national consciousness. Yet, beyond all the fleeting fads of little substance, what we need more than ever is a musical movement similar to those that revolutionized rock ‘n roll and hip hop in the first half of the decade. The West Coast G-funk sound and New York’s scene brought rap into the mainstream while the Seattle Sound, dubbed Grunge by the media but to that point never described as such by its practitioners, remade rock in its image. Grunge fused punk, metal, blues, and classic rock into not only a loosely-defined musical genre but a fashion statement and attitude as well. It surfaced at a time in which the much-maligned Generation-X came of age and demanded equal attention with, but distinction from, their Boomer parents. Well, not so much demanded but they like, just put it out there or something. Whatever.


Chief among the bands to popularize the style in ‘91 and ‘92 were Alice in Chains. Like their Pacific Northwest compatriots Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden, AIC maximized their distorted guitar dirges with lyrical dystopian deadpanning. But Layne Staley, Jerry Cantrell, Mike Starr (later Mike Inez) and Sean Kinney often ventured much deeper into the darkest realms of human torment and self-doubt, with tales of drug addiction, war, and other morose themes. When singer Staley succumbed to those demons in 2002, the group, which had virtually disbanded several years earlier, sought another path forward. By 2008, they had done just that and were joined by new frontman William DuVall.

On July 12, Alice in Chains roared back into Denver, unleashing a mix of new and old tunes at the Paramount Theater. Modern rock radio hits “Man in the Box,” “Down in a Hole,” and “Them Bones” were nostalgia novocain for the longtime fans and Millennial 90s revivalists who probably don’t remember the band’s heyday. A surprise rendition of “Nutshell,” a sombre elegy as haunting as any old Delta blues number, beget chills down many a spine. Newer material from the DuVall Era including “Check My Brain” and “Your Decision” spiced up the set until the encore lit up the crowd again for favorites “Rooster” and “Would?” The band was fiery but at ease the whole time, with guitarist Cantrell repeatedly needling the Mile High crowd by brandishing a Seattle Seahawks sticker adorning his instrument but mending ties by mentioning Washington State and Colorado’s mutual legal status as Stoners in Arms. If the 90s are back, hopefully the designer flannel shirts and dusted-off Doc Martens usher in a new paradigm-shifting musical and cultural epoch on par with the one we encountered a quarter century ago with Alice in Chains, now elder statesmen of rock ‘n roll, an influence and guiding light.

Article By: Steve Lustig

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