Alice in Chains Was the Highlight of Rocklahoma 2013

Categories: Festivals

rocklahoma-photo.jpg
Jeremy Ruggaber
For all the pomp, pageantry and excess of the previous day in a field thirty miles from Tulsa, there was a lack of focus. Even though the simple fact that a Guns and Roses gig, with Axl Rose singing some of the most memorable, catchy, and energetic rock songs of the last thirty years can take place in 2013 *should* be something special, it never felt anything more than a painful two-hour plod by highly recompensed musicians well past their expiry date. It was the sort of big rock gig you could have seen anywhere. Big names at festivals should always be aspiring to produce not only a great performance but something that transcends even their usual great performance, channelling the energy of tens of thousands of people who have spent all day and all night getting wasted. Radiohead at Glastonbury (twice!) would be the perfect examples. No one present could ever possibly forget those performances.

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Guns and Roses was not that sort of gig. Neither, although their focus and musicianship was a lot more admirable than anything from the previous night, were Saturday's penultimate main stage act Bullet For My Valentine. Their energetic set failed to connect with the crowd, as really did any main stage act over the weekend. Part of the problem there was the amazing VIP/GA crowd situation, which saw the first hundred feet of center stage occupied mainly by sparsely populated seating VIP seating.

As they left the stage, though, anticipation was building for Alice In Chains. The sun was going down facing the main stage and the incredibly poor attendance of the previous night had been transformed into a crowd of thousands, steaming both from the humidity and from the amounts of booze being consumed. People milled and stumbled, lawn chairs were arranged in lines that would prove to be a labyrinth for the many shirtless intoxicated, and the crush at the GA fences got deeper and more thoroughly packed.

We arrived from an anticipatory beer run back to our campsite just in time to catch a confident, rollocking, efficiently brutal version of "Them Bones" being bashed out by way of an opener. The stage was dark, sparse even, with a giant screen behind the band showing simple imagery. All the band members were dressed in black, and nothing on the stage, even the bass drum skin, was branded with the band's name. It was low-key, almost. Jerry Cantrell, looking good for his age, with a slightly weathered visage and short grey hair, pulled off the complex solo of the opener with no visible effort whatsoever, no grandstanding on a monitor, no running around. Just a supremely talented musician playing a classic solo with the minimum of fuss but the maximum of focus and application. It was note-perfect.

What this headline performance actually was was a proper rock concert. While showmanship has its place, there's no substitute for the actual part where all the men play their instruments well and the songs hit home. Maybe it's an unfair comparison - AiC were always the more thoughtful band, and their music never lent itself well to theatrics. Nevertheless, on a darkened stage, with frontman William DuVall's vocals providing a flawless impression of the sadly departed Layne Stayley and doing that thing where they harmonize with Jerry Cantrell to produce a harmony greater than the sum of its parts, the overall effect was breathtaking. So was the strength of AiC's back catalog, an oft-overlooked aspect of their careers that gets lost underneath the big radio hits that the crowd here had come to see. While the previous night all that got big cheers were the golden standards, AiC got a rapturous reception throughout and mumblings could be heard around us about the quality of this compared to Friday night.


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12 comments
kergo1spaceship
kergo1spaceship

I saw them in 92, and have no recollection of the event.....AIC is greatness; second greatest grunge band ever. Soundgarden being #1. 


JC is guitar and songwriting genius; that solo on Grind is transcendent. 

Mervis_Earl
Mervis_Earl

Excellent. I bought a $15 lawn ticket to Uproar just hoping that AiC would put on a good show and it sounds like they will. I've only seen them once, back in 92 or 93 opening for Ozzy and Zach at Starplex. Layne had broken his foot in New Orleans the night or so before and performed most of the show from a couch on stage. Funny and a great show.

ChangingF8
ChangingF8

Why go to these things if you think most of the musicians there are past their expiry date? If all you really cared about was AIC, as is apparent by your writing here, then maybe just wait till August to wear your flannel shirt?

JustSaying
JustSaying

Nice review, Gavin. However, I would have to disagree about Duvall sounding like Layne. I think the guys made it a point to find a guy that sounds nothing like Layne. The only thing his voice has in common with Layne's is the ability to harmonize with Jerry. When he is the only one singing you can tell the difference. Layne had a very unique style that has since been ripped off by countless other vocalists. I think the AIC guys knew that getting a guy like that would make their band as cheesy as that Rockstar movie. So they went the other way.

If you haven't already, you should buy (and by buy I mean download for free) Jerry Cantrell's solo stuff. Degradation Trip 1 and 2 are two really good recordings. They sound like they could have been AIC records that followed Dirt.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

Well, at least there was one good band there.

Tell us, did you need to use your mace to bludgeon anyone to death? I've been to quite a few "Monsters of Rock" type all-day shows over the years and often wished I had brought a mace along to drive off G&R or Korn fans.

Steve
Steve

I'll be damned, a good rock review about a good band.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

so you found the will to write after the debacle yesterday, Richard told me she doesnt know what to do, that itll take about month before you return normal.  Thanks again for having me and it was lovely to meet your family

JustSaying
JustSaying

@Mervis_Earl Damn, Mervis. Much respect. Layne was in a wheelchair when they were the unknown opening band for the Clash Of the Titans tour. That was Anthrax, Megadeth, and Slayer. I had no idea that you got down like that.

cleaver.gavin
cleaver.gavin

@JustSaying Thanks dude. They had mic level issues the first few tracks (DuVall was virtually impossible to hear) so sometimes it was a challenge to make out, and I suppose the harmonies with Jerry convinced me it was a perfect impression. On record I'd imagine it's totally different proposition. I will check those out.

Mervis_Earl
Mervis_Earl

Yeah, I might have been rockin that Kenny Powers mullet too. Maybe not by then though.

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