Alice In Chains @ Birmingham Academy – 13th November 2009


This could quite possibly be one of the worst reviews you’re about to read. Having been made aware of the existence of Alice In Chains a little over 15 years ago by an ex girlfriend who was going to see them. I confess to having never listened to any of their material until tonight’s gig and having Alice in Chains on as back ground music whilst penning words together for this very review. Indeed it’s fair to say it was only this evening I learned the significance of ‘Rooster’ and the inspiration behind many of the band’s rammed back catalogue.


If the foul weather brought you out this Friday 13th to watch a band you would have either been going to watch traditional rock legends Deep Purple, some filthy haggard punk gig at Scruffy Murphy’s featuring amongst others Rat Bones and Rotunda or in my case it was to see a heroin-inspired grunge act hailing from Seattle. By the looks of the miserable weather, I am wondering whether they brought it with them from Seattle to prepare the crowd for an evening of bleakness.

The venue itself is rammed. It wasn’t quite fully sold out when entering but as the night wore on the room just got fuller and fuller. At gigs it’s always the small insignificant things that make me smile the most. The way the crowd bursts into cheers and whistles as a lone cameraman films the assembled masses. Or the way almost everyone in the crowd was wearing either a black hoodie or a plaid shirt. Trying to get anywhere near the stage is a futile act so my standing position sees me in a secure area cocooned by two of the world’s tallest brothers somewhere near one of the quieter bars.


I don’t think in all my time of watching live music have I ever seen a band enter the stage like Alice in Chains. There’s no intro whatsoever, the four members merely walked on stage and went straight into ‘It Aint Like That’ within about 30 seconds of being seen. The sound is simply awesome. Listening to Jerry Cantrell’s guitar playing is likened to being pummeled by heavy riffs whereas the bass being projected by drummer Sean Kinney and bassist Mike Inez hits you hard in the stomach. After the death of original founder member Layne Staley the band spent a few short years in the wilderness before being joined by William DuVall. If Michael Jackson had have kept his afro, not shoveled a load of plastic into his face and not bleached his skin then he would now have closely resembled William. Also a female friend advised me that William is “seriously hot” and this was something I needed to mention in my review! Bringing William into the band could be considered an act of genius. With Layne as the front man, Alice In Chains were seen to be a singer and a group. With William and Jerry at the helm they’re now much more of a solid four-piece unit.

AiC-140 AiC-121

I thought for a minute track 5 was going to be an introduction to a new yet unheard song titled ‘Technical Difficulty’. It’s good to see that throughout the years of substance abuse Jerry’s retained his sense of humour. ‘Technical Difficulty’ was exactly was described – a slight tech issue was had which was quickly sorted.

‘Your Decision’ is the first track of the evening sung with Jerry on lead vocals. I over heard someone quote “After 10+ years of heroin abuse Jerry’s voice is still superb. That shit is superb!” Honestly, I couldn’t have said it better myself.

After ’Rain When I Die’ finishes  Jerry introduces us to the band and reliably informs us that we’re about to be treated to some “acoustic shit”. The next four songs are all played out on acoustic guitars and finally Alice In Chains — William aside – look as though they’re beginning to enjoy themselves. Up until this point I had the feeling the band was merely on stage going through the motions of playing live music. Granted music played extremely well, just not as though they were enjoying themselves whilst playing it. The audience meanwhile was lapping it up. It seemed as though pretty much everyone there was and still are die-hard fans, singing along to the old stuff and singing and being appreciative of the new.


Finally, after playing 17 tracks with minimal audience interaction, Alice In Chains finally walk off stage. For the next few minutes I though I was in an episode of trash daytime TV as chants of “JERRY! JERRY! JERRY!” erupted.

The foursome came out again and went straight into “Lesson Learned” before heading into “Would?”. The crowd seriously loved this one. I think it was fair to say that the singing from the crowd was louder than William’s amplified vocals. The final song of the evening, and probably the reason why many of the crowd was here, was “Rooster”. Inspired by Jerry’s dad going mad following the Vietnam War, it had the crowd swaying, singing and hands being raised in the air. The only thing missing was lighters or the modern equivalent — the trusty backlit mobile phone. It was only during “Rooster” that the audience actually moved. Apart from some clapping, devil signs being thrown the crowd was pretty much stationary throughout the show.


Having now lost my virginity to a bondage-liking Alice I think it’s far to say I’m now fan. Maybe when my ex went to watch Alice In Chains all those years back I should have joined her or at least made some effort to listen to another of Seattle’s grunge groups. Maybe they would have been better finishing off the set with “Would?” rather than “Rooster” but I guess the bleakness of the song’s lyrics and subject matter more than prepares you for the onslaught of the miserable weather outside.


Set List:
It Ain’t Like That
Them Bones
Dam That River
Your Decision
No Excuses
Check My Brain
A Looking In View
Rain When I Die
Down In A Hole
Heaven Beside You
Got Me Wrong
Black Gives Way To Blue
God Am
Acid Bubble
Angry Chair
Man In The Box
Lesson Learned

Review — Lee Hathaway
Photos – Steve Gerrard

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11 thoughts on “Alice In Chains @ Birmingham Academy – 13th November 2009

  1. “This could quite possibly be one of the worst reviews you’re about to read. ”

    Yes, yes it is,Lee.

    You reviewing Alice In Chains is like me reviewing Harry Partch – I don’t like or understand the genre so why would I waste a ticket ?

    The band were amazing; the melancholic potency of songs old and new was tangible: hung in the air like the sweat coming from the VERY ACTIVE mosh pit before the stage. There were exactly ZERO quiet bars.

    If you bought a tee shirt you don’t want, I’ll buy it from you. They sold out of my size.

  2. I don’t agree with the “band going through the motions” comment, but I think you’re being a bit harsh Bob Pure. I personally think it’s great that that someone who doesn’t really know the band / genre has reviewed the show, and the fact that he’s been converted is a good thing!

    The band were really good – maybe not as tight as they should be, but still really effing good. The old stuff obviously went down best, but I’ve always thought that ending on “Rooster” is a bit of an anti-climax. Their “stock” encore should surely be Angry Chair, Man In The Box and the crowd-chanting of “Would?”, no?

    Good review, Lee. Steve – I’m not going to stroke your ego and tell you how good your photos are (shit – I’ve done it anyway). Cheers guys!

  3. Bob, I very much appreciate you’re feedback. Perhaps I wasn’t the most qualified person to write the review, but at least I thought I was writing from a position of being impartial.

    From my vantage point the crowd did seem pretty still. Trust me, I’ve been to some gigs where the mosh pit was pure carnage leaving you feeling lucky to escape alive. Quiet bars – There was none as quoted “the venue itself is rammed” I stood near to one of the quieter bars. The one less than 5 deep.

    Why was my ticket a waste? Simply put. I love live music of any genre. I love music I’ve not heard before. I’m just as happy sitting listening to conservatory music as I am at a D’n’B night or a filthy punk gig. But, by no means does my love of music give me any qualification to write about it. I do it because I enjoy it.

    Once again, thanks for the feedback.

  4. I thought this review was great – impartial, not by some life long fan who would appreciate AinC in a pitch black room with no sound.

    I’m a fan who was unable to see them this time around, but when I saw them over 15 years ago they were immense. (although really crap on Jools Holland the other night!).

    Keep up the good work Lee….. and Steve, your images are amazing yet again!

    Rach…..(the ex) x

  5. I have been an AIC fan since the very beginning and this was the first opportunity i got to see them and i have to say that the gig was amazing. I felt that there was a very good mix of new and old saongs and they all went down well. The old songs will alwyas get a huge reception but the new songs sounded equally as impressive. The acoustic set was really touching, especially the dedication to Layne Staley on ‘Black Gives Way To Blue’. Yes, there were a few technical hitches but the band coped really well with it and, for it did not affect the ambience of the gig. They were brilliant and William DuValls voice is very strong and suited the songs perfectly. All in all, i great night was had, bringing back memories of my youth and the recent tracks making a great impact. The support band ‘Little Fish’ were really good too.

  6. Pretty good review, I thought. I kinda hear you on the going through the motions bit – AT FIRST – I thought Jerry Cantrell was gonna have that same bored/annoyed look for the whole evening, but the ‘technical difficulties’ bit dimmed the fear. Great gig!

  7. Awesome gig – full stop. There certainly was a mosh by us – and you fail to mention the lad on his Dad’s back finally catching a pick and drumstick to a great cheer!

    Rach – how perfoming three great songs, note perfect, on Jools be described as ‘crap’ I have no idea…

    Maybe it was because Jerry doesn’t look 21 anymore under studio lights eh?!! 😉

  8. I agree with Bob Pure. Considering you were not a fan then it’s a good review. Though yeah, the mosh pit was good for most of the night. I thoght the mix of old and new was just right, awesome gig, hopefully make it to another.

  9. Sorry, but what a lousy review… the gig was awesome!! As for there being no movement in the Mosh I can most certainly put paid to that. I was at the front of the Mosh, and believe me there was plenty of movement, the ability to take a breath everynow and again was a luxury it was that!!!
    We have waited years to see them play and were not dissapointed..

  10. yeah damn true, I was at the front of the mosh and gutted I had to leave to get water right at Rooster but was totally had!

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