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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Getting "Would?"


May 23, 2006

Alice in Chains is back together and last night at Avalon, it was 1993 all over again.  To their credit, they found a lead singer for this reunion tour who sounds a lot like the late Layne Staley.  We missed Layne, but the black guy they brought on board did a pretty credible replication of Layne's vocals the whole night.   Jerry Cantrell introduced him to the crowd and I made it a point to remember his name.  Then seconds later, I completely forgot it.  He'll always be Black Layne to me.

With Black Layne filling in for Dead Layne, the reunited Alice in Chains didn't miss a fucking beat.  They played about maybe a dozen songs in their set and encore, mostly the older stuff from “Dirt”, “Facelift” and “Sap.”   There was nothing from “Jar of Flies ” and I wanted to hear “Got Me Wrong”.  (Come to think of it, they didn't play “Grind” from “ Alice in Chains”, either.)  

The lack of “Jar of Flies” was a little disappointing but made sense; it would have required the band to go acoustic and for Black Layne to sing exactly like Layne as opposed to just scream like Layne.  Helping Black Layne out on the vocals was the crowd, doing half the work singing along with the big hits.  The set was heavy but slowed down the hard stuff like “Them Bones”, “Junkhead” and “Dam The River” with the moodier big hits like "Would?", “Down in a Hole” and “Rooster.”  The big Layne Staley tribute songs.

Of course, the whole night would have gone to shit and been for nothing without “Man in the Box.”  Christ, they made us wait for it.  All night long, all Jeff and I kept screaming for was “Man in the fucking Box, goddamn it!”  Finally, the last song of the night we got it.  “Man in the fucking Box”!  It was the only way to close the show and goddamn, it was worth the wait.  Jerry Cantrell will probably never know how much we equate that song with a doughy, goateed pro wrestler in a black T-shirt and black nylon workout pants getting his bloody balls split open with a kendo stick.  That's probably for the best, actually.

It was a really good set that really took us back to the old glory days of grunge, but if they asked me, I'd have planned the set out a little differently:  Open with “Man in the Box,” then “Man in the Box”, slow it down with a little “Man in the Box,” then just when you're expecting “Man in the Box,” play “Would?”, then “Rooster”, then “Man in the Box” and say good night.  For the encore, “Man in the Box” three times.  No, four.  Four. ...Seven.

While the music was brilliant and as close as you can get to how it sounded back in the early 90's, the audience wasn't quite the way I remember when I was a teenager.  I don't recall quite as many enormous, thick-necked, lacrosse T-shirt wearing, crew-cut meathead jocks back in the day.  They were big, loutish, drunk, and they were all over the place.  They felt the need to constantly chant “Jerry! Jerry!” as if they were at a Jerry Springer taping.  Also, for some reason, when "Down in a Hole" played, a few of the jocks hugged each other.  What the fuck was up with that?  Do they even know what the lyrics mean or are they like the guy Kurt Cobain described in "In Bloom," someone who sings along to all the words but has no idea what the song is about?

It was as obvious as the white on their baseball caps that while these meatheads are fans of Alice in Chains, they are not veterans of the mosh pit.  Mosh pits are treacherous; they can open up at any time.  The crowd will sway back and forth, elbows and shoulders pushing you from several directions, and seconds later a hole will open up with a few bodies slamming into a hastily-made circle, pushing the moshers back towards its center.  The rules are very basic and simple:  When the circles form, pull back into the circle.  If you're shoved, you sway and then shove back, but not aggressively.  Let the people who want to dance dance.  Always protect the girls in the vicinity (the pussies hide behind the girls).  Stay alert at all times – an elbow or head butt can come from any direction.  It's best to keep an arm across your chest like a boxer on guard, both arms during the more violent bursts.  Anyone crowd surfing; get your arms up, push them aloft and move them along.  Let anyone who wants to leave and move to safety do so immediately.  Most of all, don't be a dick.  Stay cool and enjoy the music.  And if you're Jeff, somehow continually find the hottest girl in the vicinity, press up against her and smell her hair.

It's been a decade since I'd been in a mosh pit, Foo Fighters in Worcester back in 1995 if I recall correctly, and I'd forgotten the etiquette.  But if I had forgotten how to mosh and stay relatively safe in the pit, the meathead jocks never knew how at all.  When Alice in Chains started playing, a couple of teenagers who were probably 10 at most when the band broke up went nuts and began pushing and moshing.  The jocks in the vicinity got pissed off and shoved back angrily.  I was kind of annoyed too at my limited personal space being invaded, and also with the douchebags who were continually jostling past us to get closer to the stage (another point – the mosh pit is a modular thing and when it gets moving and flowing, there are numerous opportunities to move closer to the stage without being a douchebag about it).  When the jocks glared at the kid, he said, “You're gonna get pushed.  It happens.”  And the kid was right.  That's how it works down here.  Reminded of that, I remembered what to do and jumped into the fray.  The jocks also did their share of moshing but they didn't last very long.  They were all gassed up and were blown up pretty quickly.

The last time I saw Alice in Chains was at Lollapalooza 1993 at some air field in Rhode Island .  I'll never forget what I remember of that – a crowd surfing skin head was dropped on top of me and his steel toed boot collided with my external occipital protuberance. (The back of the head, what I named this very website for.)  I know I was groggy for most of the set, but I remember making it all the way to second row in front of the stage and staring up at Layne as he sang “Would?”  He was wearing a horizontal stripped shirt, his black wrap around shades, and he had his long King Tut goatee.  He wore black gloves but the puncture marks on his forearms were visible.  I never saw Layne again, and he died a few years later, but at least I saw him in his prime.  I don't remember how I got out of the mosh pit but I ended up lying on the top of my van recovering while Primus closed the show.

I'm not quite as beat up today as I was then.  Just a little banged up, as the Red Sox announcers repeatedly described the Yankees line up last night.  Self-preservation was more important to me than it was when I was 18.  Slight ringing in my years, hoarse voice, and some minor shoulder and neck pains aside, I'm fine.  I feel great.  Alice in Chains was a great fucking time.

Jeff's review of last night's show:  Black Layne was good enough.