– Words by Jordan Buford / Photos by James Villa –
WinStar World Casino – Thackerville, OK / Saturday, August 1, 2015
I’ve been to some casinos (a few times), and I’ve seen many concerts (hundreds of times over), but going to a casino to see a concert would be a new experience for me.
That was the plan for this Saturday, as On Tour Monthly rolled out to Winstar World Casino in Thackerville, Oklahoma, not too far from the Texas, Oklahoma state line.
The place itself is massive; and once stepping into the show room, I was amazed that such a giant space could be housed within the casino. Patrons were swarming in, being led to their seats as the room quickly filled up. Outside, while waiting in line, people were heard shouting excitedly (the sudden noise also earning them some startled, bewildered looks). Clearly, people were pumped to see the one and only, Alice in Chains.
This stop of their 2015 Summer Tour was right in the middle of their run, which is arguably the best time to see a touring act. They’ve been on the road long enough to settle into a groove, though not long enough for the road to potentially start wearing on them. This night was poised to be exceptional; and for me, it would be my first Alice in Chains show.
Shortly after eight, the lights dimmed, fanfare erupting around the showroom; while shadowy figures made their way onto the stage. Jerry Cantrell served up a few licks, quickly dying down as the rest of the band members got situated. Moments later, they came out swinging with “Again”, the first of many classic songs they did this night, music from AIC’s original era making up the bulk of what would be nothing less than a riveting show.
Right away, they were on fire, bassist Mike Inez whipping his head back and forth during that opener, while William DuVall strolled and jumped around the stage. The frontman transformed into the rhythm guitarist as well for “Check My Brain”, his use of the axe being a one-off thing for the moment as they soon jumped back to 1992, the title track from Dirt coming as a total shock to fans.
Cantrell would later state that they were bringing out some older songs they hadn’t done in awhile on this night, and while no one knew what had made them decide to do such a thing, no one cared. They were just excited to hear those classic, deeper cuts, that song in particular containing everything that was the grunge movement of the 90’s. The hypnotic chord structure being a highlight; while DuVall’s voice and its uncanny resemblance to the late Layne Staley ensured the cut sounded just as it should.
After cramming in three songs, they finally took a sort of break, the vocalist pumping up the patrons as he encouraged them to get louder. Everyone was on their feet.
“Man in the Box” then came somewhat early in the night, the reaction to it being overwhelming. Actually, that made its appearance as the fourth song a perfect choice, as it further ensured the fans were as immersed in this show as possible. Indeed, they were, even singing along throughout every chorus as DuVall thrust the microphone out towards the spectators, the room lighting up so everyone could be seen.
Another surprise that was laying in wait for fans this night was “Brother”; peoples’ interest never waning during the somewhat more relaxed song, the solo Cantrell unleashed (during which time he was the only member seen at the forefront of the stage) making sure of that.
The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here didn’t go untouched, “Stone” being one of the offerings from the most recent release, and during it, the rock outfit abruptly stopped, waiting for the cheers to begin. It didn’t take long. “Did y’all come here to party, or what?!” asked Cantrell, things soon reaching a fevered pitch of excitement. And that was the cue to rip back into it.
It just so happened that the guitarists’ father was there this night, and in advance of the song he wrote for him (“Rooster”), Jerry Cantrell Sr. appeared on stage, saying a few words to everyone. It was a real cool moment, especially for the younger Cantrell, who you could tell was loving having his father out on stage with him, even if just for a minute.
Another pleasant surprise of the night was “Got Me Wrong”, which ended with some stellar, sweet riffs, it and the percussion working in a very tight manner. Then came what was an absolute shocker, a song they stressed they literally hadn’t done since near the beginning of the 90’s, right around the time of the release of Facelift. Who came here expecting “Sunshine”? Surely no one, so everyone made sure to enjoy the special treat; Sean Kinney crushing it as he laid down the striking, steady beat.
Beforehand, Cantrell had joked that he hoped he remembered the solo for that song, so, after saying that, he, of course, did not ace it. He was looking for redemption and after swapping to another guitar for the next few numbers, he went back to that solo, nailing it this time around. As DuVall joked, it was a “mulligan”.
The music just kept coming, no sign of ending in sight, nor was there any indication of their energy level fading. DuVall was still covering ground, regardless of if he was using his guitar or just holding the mic, going everywhere he could on that stage. Cantrell was still shredding as if it were nothing; while Inez and Kinney were building up their chemistry at this point, the bassist spending more time by the drum riser as they pounded out the rhythm.
When it came time for the encore portion, DuVall mentioned they were foregoing the standard “walk off and then back on again” practice, continuing to play straight through as the near two hour set wound down.
There’s no denying that “Would?” was a highlight of the final stretch (and even the night in general); and while the end portion was mainly older tunes, they chose to conclude with something off Black Gives Way to Blue, “Acid Bubble” ensuring the night ended in the most gritty, raw way possible.
For my first AIC experience, I was blown away. They crushed it; and from what seemed to be a consensus (based on what I overheard as people filed out), they were rocking even harder than usual. It sure looked that way, and only about a quarter of the way into this performance you could tell they hit their stride, exuding a commanding presence; being at their prime when they were going from one song to the next.
It was extraordinary to witness.
The times may have changed. Grunge rock doesn’t dominate the airwaves anymore, perhaps even being a lost art in some regards. The bands that brought it to the forefront are relatively few in numbers now. They can still deliver the performance of a lifetime, though. At least that was the case this night, Alice in Chains proving there’s still very much a demand for the subset of rock, both amongst fans who grew up as the band rose to stardom as well as a healthy number of younger patrons who, one way or another, have been introduced to their music. I’d say the appeal is because even now, a couple decades after most of their songs were written, there’s still something about them. They still have an absolute edginess to them, ensuring Alice in Chains will be a titan in the music world for as long as they choose to keep doing what they do, and even long after that.
Check My Brain
Man in the Box
Got Me Wrong
(First performance since 1991)
Down in a Hole
Last of My Kind
It Ain’t Like That
We Die Young