It’s hard to overlook that fact that Alice in Chains were once defined by Layne Staley, the band's ead singer who passed away in 2002 due to a drug overdose. When the band last played Cleveland in 2007, its set made a point to celebrate his life and legacy. But there was no mention of Staley at their sold-out show at House of Blues last night. The band now belongs to William DuVall, who comes so close to reproducing Staley's voice it’s kinda creepy at times.
Classic Alice in Chains songs sounded stellar. The show opened with “Rain When I Die,” followed by other notables like “Them Bones” and “Dam That River.” Songs from the new album Black Gives Way to Blue seemed to resonate with some in the audience — especially their heavy guitars and drums — but overall these tracks slowed down the set.
The crowd wanted the hits, and the band mostly delivered. “Nutshell” was the most memorable, with guitarist Jerry Cantrell performing an extended closing solo that punctuated the song. There aren't too many guitarists who can keep up with Cantrell, whose muddled, perfunctory playing captures the essence of grunge.
The last third of the set was straight out of 1995: “Man in the Box” and “Would” closed the main set to raucous approval. The band then returned for an encore and kept the time machine in reverse, closing with “Dirt,” “No Excuses” and “Rooster.” All three sounded like nothing changed, even if the band has. —Aaron Mendelsohn