The Second Coming Not Quite What We Were Hoping For
By: Dave “The Klone” Maresca
I want to begin my review with a bit of a dialogue, directed at you, our readers. The phenomenon that surrounds seeing a band that you feel passionate about is a long revered tradition, one that cannot be explained with any degree of accuracy to anyone who hasn’t had this experience. For me, the special-ness about it would always start long before I would arrive at a venue. Maybe it’s listening to my most recent favorite track by the band on my iPod the morning of the show, or it’s the car ride to the venue getting psyched with whatever friends or cohorts are accompanying me. Most importantly, it’s that personal reflection on how long you’ve been listening to these guys (or gals) and what having their music as part of the soundtrack to your life has meant. It’s all about the relationship.
That said, we all have our relationships with certain bands that have…changed us in some way since the very first time we heard them. For me, the list is short but distinguished. Number 1 – Metallica, Number 2 – Alice In Chains Guns, Number 3 – Guns N’ Roses, Number 4 – Tool, Number 5 – is up for grabs between several others, none the least of which could be Type O Negative. There they are, the top four big dog, power players. Last month I was lucky enough to catch my silver medalist, Alice In Chains performing one of the first shows ever at Monmouth University’s recently constructed Multipurpose Activity Center (MAC). This was a night I’ll never forget, but not because it was completely, mind-blowingly amazing – and believe me, the performance was – but there was a lot to take into account with this event. This was a night I’ll always remember for what it could’ve been…what it was supposed to be.
I want to back-up the comment I already made about the performance, because the band was seriously impressive. For anyone who hasn’t been a long-time fan of AIC, the impression I can imagine they would have been left with from this show is that of a tight-knit group of guys who’ve all grown together into a single unit that blasts forth with their blues-tinged metal riffs and solid song structure. In that respect, I can imagine all the newbie fans (of which there were many at this show) got more than they paid for. For the veteran fans who were in attendance (like me), there was a seriously tall-order expectation, and I think the band did meet them, for the most part.
The classics sounded absolutely pristine, even with newcomer William DuVall stepping into the colossal shoes left by the late, great Layne Staley (1967 – 2002). I do have to criticize him a bit, because by the end of the show his voice was audibly struggling, barely hitting some of the signature AIC high notes, but the first notes he crooned of the evening sounded so eerily like Staley that I had to completely freeze and take the moment in. (I never regretted more the fact that I never got a chance to catch the original line-up live.) Jerry Cantrell carried the flag from the days of old, really bringing forth the meaning behind the title “Black Gives Way to Blue”. He is still the rock holding this group together, supported by bassist Mike Inez and drummer Sean Kinney, all of whom are still in their prime. Musically, in my honest opinion, they are still unmatched among the contenders of today. Overall, I wish they had played fewer songs from the new album, and concentrated on the songs the true fans came to hear. There weren’t many that they didn’t play, but the few missing hits were noticed and lamented.
I think this show had some serious “areas in need of improvement”, starting with the venue. I do plan on writing a piece on the role a venue plays in a show/performance, and perhaps there I will truly crucify the Monmouth University Multipurpose Activity Center for killing the American concert experience as we have all come to know and love it. For this piece, suffice it to say that Monmouth University did not quite understand the idea behind a rock concert. Maybe it was the humiliating “Over 21” bracelets with four breakaway tabs to limit the number of beers one could buy during the show. Perhaps it was that all beers had to be purchased and consumed in a “beer garden” located on the second floor…nothing like being crammed into an adult version of a play-pen to enjoy your adult refreshments. No, I know, it was the beer being poured out of warm cans by three – that’s right three total bar tenders serving the entire crowd, none of whom understood the physics of carbonation. Now that I think about it, it could’ve also been that the “beer garden” was a considerable distance from, and had zero view of the stage. So, no chance I’d even accidentally enjoy the show and a beer at the same time. At Monmouth University MAC you have to choose…band, or Bud. (Actually it was Yuengling and Coors, but who’s keeping track?) BTW Monmouth University…if you’re going to have a “beer garden”, it’s tradition to have the beer served from kegs – refrigerated kegs that, you know, keep the beer cold, and served by someone who knows how to pour beers…as opposed to the setup you went with…some jack-ass pouring beers out of warm cans, blatantly ignoring the consumers of said beverages when they complain about getting half a cup of foam instead of the beer they ordered. WTF?!!Concession stand tomfoolery aside, there was an overabundance of security. Now, I’m not opposed to security, and I do believe that when people gather in public to watch events like concerts, there is a tendency for some folks to get out of hand, so I’m all for a security presence at shows. What I am diametrically opposed to is a Goldberg wannabe sporting aviator shades (inside a darkened venue) crisscrossing his way through the crowd OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN throughout the night, cutting through the sea of barely bobbing heads like a Great White’s dorsal fin. This guy alone made the concert NOT FUN, but unfortunately he wasn’t alone. A serious scrawny lackey followed him with each pass, and even he had a look of, “What the hell are we doing?” on his face the whole night. Couple that with the crowd that was for most part sober (with no relief in sight) and you had something more resembling an oil painting watching Alice In Chains, rather than the crowd I’m sure they were expecting. I counted myself among the 10 other people throughout the entire place who were really rocking out and head banging along with classics like “Damn That River” and “Them Bones”. It was, to say the least, pathetic. Before we actually headed out for the show, I happened to be on TicketMaster’s website and noticed that AIC is playing at Madison Square Garden in September. Something tells me that show will be more like what this show should’ve been.
In the end, the band is still amazing, sad as it is to know that an era has passed and will never be repeated. May Layne Staley rest in peace knowing that his brothers-in-arms are still fighting the good fight, rocking us until our heads rattle with the ringing in our ears. The most unfortunate aspect, as I look back, is that the shortcomings of the naïve, new venue reflected badly on a performance that should’ve left me enraptured. (Grow up, Monmouth University MAC!) I have a feeling any of my fellow Alice In Chains diehards that catch them in New York this fall will be less disappointed, even if the set list left a few cherished classics on the cutting room floor.