Original Alice in Chains singer Layne Staley had a distinctive sneer that made the Seattle-based grunge band into multi-platinum megastars. When he passed away in 2002, the group took a hiatus of sorts to figure out if it could proceed without him. After some soul-searching, it eventually replaced Staley with singer-guitarist William DuVall. While the guy looks nothing like Staley — he sports a sky high Afro — he certainly sounds like him. While this won’t come as any surprise to diehard Alice in Chains fans, he proved to be an engaging frontman last night at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica as the band opened the outdoor summer concert with a bang. Even though the sound mix was muddy and the 100-minute set dragged a bit at the mid-way point, the band still displayed its signature sound and showed why it continues to be relevant even though grunge isn’t as popular as it once was.
Opening with the dirge “Them Bones,” the band started the show strong as the slender DuVall, dressed in tight black jeans and a form-fitting black leather jacket, let loose a few piercing screams as he ran onto the stage. Playing in front a large mesh covered scaffolding of sorts that housed several LED lights that flickered and flashed throughout the concert, the band didn’t go for theatrics. Rather, it hunkered down to deliver renditions of “Dam That River,” “Again” and “Check My Brain” that stayed true to their studio versions. And the guys seemed to be having fun too. “Love a gig on the river,” DuVall said mid-way through the show. And Cantrell contributed a joke about the Pittsburgh Steelers after bragging about the Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl win.
But after cranking up the lights for “Man in the Box,” the band settled into a dull groove — the crappy sound mix that distorted the vocals didn’t help matters. It got back on track, however, with the mid-tempo “No Excuses” and then finished the set on a high note with “Rooster,” one of the most menacing rock songs of all time. DuVall really nailed the song’s sneering vocals and even-keeled guitarist Jerry Cantrell effortlessly delivered the tune’s nasty guitar riffs. The three-song encore that concluded with the hit “Would” put a nice punctuation mark on the proceedings. Even though the band didn’t hit the mark for the entire concert — the handful of songs it played from last year’s The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here fell flat — it still sounds plenty ready to rock stadiums in Europe when it goes overseas with Metallica later this summer.