Cincinnati Pop Rock quartet Mixtapes formed about four years ago and immediately hit the road with a relentless dedication. The band’s hard work paid off and it has experienced great success, building a dedicated fan base across the country with great live shows and hook-drenched, nationally-released albums and singles.
As anyone who has seen Mixtapes live knows, the band’s shows are adrenalized, sweaty fun and their music, while growing more mature and diverse with each release, is sheer fist-pumping, singalong joyfulness.
Frontman Ryan Rockwell was living the dream. But somewhere along the way, his life became more like a nightmare. The fact that Mixtapes’ launch coincided with the death of his father certainly played a part in Rockwell’s difficulties. Though details are vague, according to a press release, Rockwell “started to watch himself deteriorate and become the type of person he hated the most. He tried things he never thought he would and got dangerously close to not making it out.”
"I had never felt more alone," Rockwell says in the release. "Friends that I have had for years literally just stopped talking to me, stopped responding, a large number of them. I turned to the only thing I knew, and I started writing about it. I don't know who was wrong or who was right, but I know how much it hurt and people that I have helped and would do anything for left me when I needed help the most. Other people stepped up and saved me. I don't place blame though … I became a different person for awhile.
Rockwell was trying to understand what was going on in himself to make him so unhappy, but found it difficult to express. So he did what he does best and channeled his emotions into writing and recording songs. Working with friends Kamal Hiresh and Zach George and using the name Youth Culture, Rockwell hit the basement and created what would become the 10-track album, I Hate How Normal I’ve Become, an accomplished and eclectic collection of songs that, while still instantly catchy, possess much more darkness than Mixtapes’ jubilant Punk Pop.
Rockwell released the Youth Culture album late last month as a “pay-what-you-want” (yes, even if you want to pay nothing) download.
“This is an album for people going through things they don't like to talk about or know how to express,” Rockwell says. “We did it all ourselves and paid for it all ourselves. First and foremost, we want you to hear it — which is why it's free. If you like it enough, we'd very much appreciate a donation to recoup costs and eventually put it out on vinyl. But as always with everything I've done, I just want it to get out there, so thank you so much for taking the time to listen; there's a lot of bands out there, thanks for giving this a spin."
Listen to I Hate How Normal I’ve Become below, then click the player to grab your very own copy.
Fans worried that Youth Culture might signal the end of Mixtapes, fear not. The band is currently crisscrossing the United States on the massive Vans Warped Tour, which it'll be a part of until August. (The band is slated to appear at the Warped Tour’s Cincinnati stop on July 16 at Riverbend Music Center.)
Heavy Hinges is a new-ish band featuring some faces likely familiar to dedicated local music fans. Guitarist Jeremy Singer and drummer Brian Williamson have played in numerous groups over the past two decades, while singer/guitarist Dylan Speeg and bassist Andrew Laudeman were members of long-running, super-diverse Cincinnati crew Buckra. Maya Banatwala is the relative newcomer in the band, but her soul-drenched co-lead vocals in the Hinges serve as the group’s secret weapon.
Heavy Hinges debut album, Mean Old City, shows signs of some of Buckra’s trademark sonic diversity, but it’s channeled in a more focused manner. Ultimately, Heavy Hinges is a great Rock & Roll band, but its sound is touched by influences from Blues, Pop, Funk and Soul to various other forms of American Roots music. Like Alabama Shakes, Heavy Hinges manages to sound remarkably vital and “of the now” — despite the obvious vintage inspirations — thanks to the sincerity and vigor poured into each note. Mean Old City bristles with a timelessness that has less to do with the classic genres flirted with throughout and more to do with the from-the-heart songwriting and playing.
Here’s a music video for Mean Old City track “Booze May Be Your Lover, Not Your Friend”:
Speeg and Banatwala make for great co-frontpeople, crisscrossing their melodies and harmonies sometimes like X’s Exene Cervenka and John Doe and other times like June and Johnny Cash, with each singer possessing a voice quite distinct from each other, yet still sounding like they were made for each other when they come together. Meanwhile, the rest of the band are flawless and perform with a similar soulfulness; Williamson and Laudeman are a jaw-droppingly great rhythm section, while Singer’s guitar leads and solos are as attention-grabbing as the singers’ powerful vocal one-two punch.
Heavy Hinges host a free release party for the new album Saturday at 10 p.m. at Northside Tavern with DAAP Girls. Read CityBeat's profile of Heavy Hinges from early this year when the band was nominated in the "Best New Artist" category at the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards.
Riff-tastic Cincinnati Hard Rock foursome Lift the Medium has only been a band for a year, but you wouldn’t know it listening to its accomplished debut full-length, Mastermind. The band celebrates the release of its rock-solid album with a show Saturday at MVP Bar & Grill in Silverton. The 9 p.m. show also features performances by Livid and Life After This. Admission is $10; the first 50 fans through the door score a free copy of Mastermind.
Though a relatively new band, Lift the Medium’s members have extensive experience; singer/guitarist Joey Vasselet spent time in Rootbound, a melodic band that craftily incorporated influences from several different eras of Hard Rock, while bassist Justin Kennedy, singer/drummer Jake Bartone and singer/guitarist Joe Bartone were a part of Atlantis Becoming, a group known for its exploratory, progressive approach.
The band members’ backgrounds give a good sense of Lift the Medium’s style. The songs on Mastermind are craftily structured — the winding riffs and rhythms are constantly in motion, subtly recalling the more exploratory sounds of Atlantis Becoming. But there’s no meandering — every movement is in service to the song, resulting in a more passionate and pointed melodic impact. There is also a lot of diversity throughout Mastermind, but it’s molded into a cohesive and contemporary sound the group can call its own.
Lift the Medium can at times remind you of Grunge-era superstars like Alice in Chains or Soundgarden, but flashes of the classic ’70s/’80s Hard Rock/Metal perfected by the likes Aerosmith, Ozzy Osbourne or Iron Maiden also bubble to the surface. The delicately ingrained Prog touches lightly recall groups like Tool, but Mastermind also sounds like it would be perfectly at home on Rock radio next to contemporary acts like Shinedown and Seether. The production on Mastermind is remarkably crisp and muscular, making it even more radio-ready.
It’s no easy feat to incorporate such a variety of styles without sounding like Rock tourists/time travelers, but Lift the Medium’s sharp songwriting skills and impeccable chops help bring everything together without sacrificing its own distinct personality, allowing the variance to keep things sonically interesting from start to finish, but never allowing it to overshadow the strength of the songwriting. Cincinnati’s Rock radio stations (and likeminded ones across the country) should be all over Mastermind. It’s a crowd-pleaser that works on numerous levels.
Find more info about Lift the Medium (and hear some more song samples) here.
Much has changed for the legendary Cincinnati live music venue the Blue Wisp Jazz Club over its 40-plus-year existence. Though it has consistently been the club for Jazz in Cincinnati over most of that period, the Blue Wisp has moved four different times over four decades. In its most recent locale at the corner of Race and Seventh streets downtown, the club owners also tried to attract more business by serving food and varying the types of music performed. But it wasn’t enough and the Blue Wisp has once again closed its doors (though various reports suggest it could find yet another new location in the future).
One thing that hadn’t changed at the Blue Wisp, at least since it began in 1980, is the Blue Wisp Big Band. The group of all-star local musicians has maintained one of the longest residency in the region, performing its skilled take on vintage Big Band Jazz like clockwork every Wednesday. The band is a Cincinnati institution.
When the Wisp shut down, the members of the Big Band were determined to not let their remarkable run end with a whimper. Instead, the Blue Wisp Big Band sought to continue its every-Wednesday residency at another venue. (In case you’re wondering, the group owns its moniker, so they can legally continue to use the “Blue Wisp” name.)
Veteran local Jazz pianist and Blue Wisp Big Band founding member Steve Schmidt says they’ve landed their new spot, Japp’s Annex on Main St. in Over-the-Rhine, and will pick up its Wednesday night shows beginning this week. Schmidt says the group will perform every Wednesday at Japp’s, at least through the end of July, when they’ll reassess the situation just to make sure it’s a good fit. The Big Band will again be playing two hour-long sets each Wednesday, the first starting at 8:30 p.m. The cover charge will be less than it was at the Wisp — just $5. (Parking is available in the lot on the corner of Main and Central Parkway, as well as in the garage behind the club on Sycamore.)
“We are excited about trying out this (Over-the-Rhine) spot and happy that the ownership and staff at Japp's is excited, too,” Schmidt says. “We are all thinking of ways to make it better for the customer and the band as we go along. The band wanted to start quickly, not to be dormant for too long.”
Several of the principal members of the Blue Wisp Big Band did a walkthrough several days ago to get a feel for the new space and were happy with what they saw (and felt).
“I got a very good feeling about the room,” Schmidt says, “both in terms of space — spacious yet intimate — and acoustics. I think the other guys felt the same way. (Founding BWBB anchor/drummer) John Von Ohlen rightly pointed out that there is a lot of wood — the floors and the large bar. As John said, in the fullest and most complimentary sense of the word, ‘It's a joint!’ It's what he had in mind when he formed the band and put it in the original Blue Wisp in O'Bryonville. He said he wanted a world-class big band in a beer tavern.”
“In a word,” Schmidt adds, “(the new space) has soul.”
This morning’s activities were as hectic as a hurricane as I jumped from one interview to the next in the Bonnaroo press compound.
Things started off nice and easy when I rendezvoused with a friend of a friend who is Lionel Richie’s stage manager. An industry veteran of many years, Sal Marinello has worked for Barbra Streisand, Metallica, Neil Diamond, Britney Spears and many more. Large festival stages like Bonnaroo are equipped with lights and sound, so Marinello’s workload and schedule today are not as demanding as a typical day on the road. Marinello and his crew arrived in the wee hours this morning with one truck instead of the usual seven. Main stage headliner Jack White’s line check completed and his gear rolled to the side of the stage by 8 a.m., Sal and his staff had Lionel’s gear in place onstage for their line check less than an hour later. (The rest of the day’s main stage performers will set up and perform in front of Lionel’s gear.)
The noon hour brought a flurry of activity that had my head spinning pretty much for the rest of the day. Nashville’s Wild Feathers returned on the red eye from St. Louis to do a three-song acoustic performance in the press tent that found the band looking ragged but sounding great as ever. Their material is strong, their performance was spirited, and their three-part whiskey tenor harmonies were crystal clear as ever. But they sure did look tired. Scheduled to play at noon, they were running late and had to jump right on the stage and burst into song immediately upon their 12:30 p.m. arrival.
Chatting with Ben Kaufman, Adam Aijala and Dave Johnston from Yonder Mountain String Band, I found the trio cautiously optimistic about moving forward after the recent departure of mandolin player and founding member Jeff Austin. Not that I expected them to be in a full-blown panic, but it was impressive to hear the calm in their voices as they discussed their future options with no apparent concern about securing a permanent replacement for Austin. Bluegrass legend Sam Bush joined Yonder for their 2:30 p.m. set on the main stage today. For their summer tour they’ll be joined by Jake Joliff on mandolin and Ally Kral on violin. (Yonder Mountain String Band plays Moonlight Gardens at Coney Island on the Fourth of July.)
The Flaming Lips brought a whole new freak rock spectacle to Bonnaroo this year and frontman Wayne Coyne was bouncing around the press tent talking to reporters for a couple hours yesterday. Spirits high and eyes aglow, Wayne happily made the rounds. The man loves to talk and this writer spent a dizzying 10 minutes with Coyne, discussing their brilliant new record The Terror. The band’s 12:30 a.m. set on the Which Stage was an explosive spectacle of lights, confetti, balloons, and dancers in costume, with the fiendish ring leader Wayne in the middle of it all looking like an evil super villain dressed in red tights with a shiny silver codpiece. (The band is one of the headliners of Cincinnati's Bunbury Music Festival this year.)
It’s not the first time I’ve seen Coyne dominate a press conference here; yesterday he spoke excitedly about The Flaming Lips’ desire to always bring something special to the Bonnaroo stage.
“If you’ve been here for three days and you’ve already seen 50 bands,” he said, “you wanna see something different. So that’s why (in 2007) we decided to land a spaceship here.”
Cool as a cucumber in spite of the summer heat penetrating the crowded tent during an early afternoon press conference, Derek Trucks fielded a question about the size of the Tedeschi-Trucks band. “An 11-piece band is a lot like herding cats.” Then he quietly mumbled the unintentionally Zen aside: “But it’s better than 30.”
Still buzzing from my conversation with Wayne, I scampered out into the crowd to catch Southern rockers Blackberry Smoke on the Which Stage. This was one of my personal Top 3 must-see bands of the weekend. It was gratifying to see the young Bonnaroo audience embrace a band that has more in common with their grandparents’ record collection than what many probably have on their current iPod playlist. I stopped to say hello to Blackberry Smoke singer and guitarist Charlie Starr after a 4 p.m. press conference and we discussed some of our favorite early Blues singers. I feel confident that he and I were probably among the very few here at Bonnaroo chatting about Ishman Bracey.
From there the day just got crazier, as the Saturday schedule was packed with stellar artists, including Valerie June, Drive-By Truckers, Phosphorescent, Lauryn Hill and Seasick Steve who boasted none other than Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones on bass. Walking through the crowd I heard Cake play a spot-on cover of Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” with the guitar solo section cleverly transcribed for the horn section.
After a late afternoon breather back at the campsite, I wandered through Bonnaroo’s famous archway entrance to catch some of Lionel Richie’s set. My timing was perfect. As soon as I walked through the gate he launched into the Commodores’ “Brick House,” a Bonnaroo performance I’d been looking forward to for months. Again I found it gratifying to see the young audience dialed into Richie’s performance as he pulled out one classic song after another. You can imagine how his ’80s gem “All Night Long” had the dancers moving. This was a moment of such heartwarming cross-generational bonding that it gave me goosebumps in the humid Tennessee night.
Last night’s main stage headliner Jack White nearly tore the stage in half, bringing an explosive thunder and fury that’s largely missing from Rock & Roll these days. One of the most highly-anticipated sets of the weekend, Jack and his crack band did not disappoint. A frantic and fiery performer onstage, he was straightfaced and serious, as if in character, throughout a bombastic set that stretched well over two hours. White has called Nashville home for several years now and he brought noise to these Tennessee hills last night like no one ever has before. An all-out stunner from the first song all the way through to the last note of several encores, this was unquestionably one of the most memorable performances in Bonnaroo’s 13-year history.
And believe it or not there is still more to come. Today is the fourth and final day of Bonnaroo 2014. Photographer Chuck Madden and I must bear in mind that it’s a marathon, not a sprint, as we endeavor to take in performances today by Lucero, Lake Street Dive, Okkervil River, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Arctic Monkeys, Broken Bells, Washed Out, Yonder Mountain String Band, The Avett Brothers and more. The legendary Elton John will close out the fest tonight.
Thanks to CityBeat for making this all possible! Chuck and I would like to extend a special thank you to CityBeat photographer Jesse Fox who was a big help to us this weekend.
Only 361 days ‘til Bonnaroo 2015!
The blazing two-guitar Indie Prog of White Denim’s midnight set on Bonnaroo’s That Tent stage absolutely floored Chuck and me last night. Those familiar with White Denim’s fabulous 2013 release Corsicana Lemonade might find it hard to believe that the band sounded even better on stage than on record. Drummer Joshua Block repeatedly whipped the crowd into a howling frenzy throughout a 60-minute performance that found the band shooting a virtual shower of sparks that led Chuck to conclude, “We won’t hear anything else that good all weekend.”
Rarely have I seen a band who had the crowd eating out of their hand like White Denim did last night. This performance was an all-timer for me, one of the most exhilarating experiences I have ever had watching a band on stage. (You can catch them for free Sunday at Southgate House Revival; read CityBeat’s interview with the group here.)
Blessed relief fell upon us in the form of an unexpectedly quiet first night in the Bonnaroo campground. My Friday began with an illuminating 30-minute chat with Jake, Joel and Chris from Umphrey’s McGee. I told them I was from CityBeat and before I could even turn on my recorder they began to rave about Cincy’s late, great Ray’s Music Exchange, citing them as one of their biggest influences in Umphrey’s early days.
“Those guys were so bad ass and adventurous,” said guitarist Jake Cinninger, “It made us braver and made us feel like ‘Hey, maybe we can do this, too!’”
Sometimes described as Phish’s evil twin, or rabid little brother, Umphrey’s is much more than this. Performing a different setlist every night, indulging in wild flights of improvisation, often not repeating songs for many days, Umphrey’s musicianship and sense of adventure onstage is peerless and unparalleled. Bonnaroo veterans since the festival’s first year, 2014 marks Umphrey’s first appearance on the main stage. This week the band launched their own Nothing Too Fancy record label with the release of their new Similar Skin album. Touring through the summer and on into the fall, Umphrey’s makes a stop at Kettering, Ohio’s Fraze Pavilion on June 28.
Backstage press conferences today featured comedians Hannibal Buress and Taran Killam. Both held court in the press area for over an hour, good-naturedly conducting spontaneous interviews and posing for photos. I caught a glimpse of rapper Danny Brown, dressed head to toe in black leather and sporting a Guns ’N Roses T-shirt and dark sunglasses, chatting with a female reporter in the press tent. Just a few yards away, the members of J. Roddy Walston and the Business were laughing and carrying on with members of the assembled press like it was a family picnic. Just a few hours later Walston and Co. restored my faith in Rock & Roll with a blistering set on the Sonic Stage that found Walston himself repeatedly jumping up from his seat at the piano and into the arms of the adoring crowd. At one point he leapt onto the shoulders of an unsuspecting photographer in the photo pit before climbing once again over the barricade to crowd surf.
This writer spotted Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips walking through the crowd on Friday afternoon — but it was Toby from Dr. Dog, who I shamelessly ran after to get his autograph for my girlfriend back home. The first serious mob scene of the weekend gathered in front of Which Stage for Dr. Dog’s 2:30 p.m. performance. Unquestionably one of the most talented and promising bands of the past decade, their set was heavy on tracks from their stellar 2013 release, B-Room.
Our Friday was another typically schizophrenic zig zag around the festival grounds as Chuck and I took in sets by Neutral Milk Hotel, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Andrew Bird and the Prog Metal thunder of Animals As Leaders. There seemed to be a lot of excitement and anticipation in the air for Kanye West’s headlining set on the main stage. But, at the same time, the most frequently spotted T-shirt at Bonnaroo yesterday said, “FUCK YOU KANYE”. I heard someone in the crowd say, “If Kanye’s such a genius, he should sell those shirts himself.”
Since being released nationally in early May, Cincinnati rockers Wussy’s amazing latest album Attica! has been scoring an insane amount of neon-glowing reviews from many high profile outlets. Pitchfork, Pop Matters and Spin, among many others, have all given the album high praise (Spin also recently named it one of the Top 50 album releases of the year so far, alongside long-players by Beck, Pharrell and The Afghan Whigs). The band’s new record was also the inspiration for a remarkable essay by Charles Taylor for The Los Angeles Review of Books.
Give a listen to the new album below, then hit “buy” to grab your own copy:
Wussy is playing its only local show until at least this fall tonight, as the group keeps busy on the road throughout the summer, crisscrossing the country in support of Attica! The band’s upward trajectory that has been kickstarted by the new album shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Check out CityBeat's recent interview with Wussy here.
Wussy joins The Tigerlilies, Honey & Houston and students from the School of Rock Mason (check the clips below for samples of each) for a free show tonight on Fountain Square as part of the MidPoint Indie Summer series (grab your MidPoint Music Festival passes in person at the MPMF booth or sign up for a chance to win some). The show starts at 7 p.m.
Cincinnati’s King Records and its various subsidiary labels have been widely celebrated for its vital contribution to the development of popular music in the 20th Century. The legendary label’s groundbreaking, integrated roster of Roots, Bluegrass, R&B and Funk artists gave the world recordings that were integral to the development of Rock & Roll, Pop, Country and, though perhaps less obvious to some, Hip Hop.
Musical icon James Brown was King’s most well-known artist and without Brown’s Funk genius, it’s likely that Hip Hop wouldn’t sound the same today. Brown’s work is some of the most widely sampled in Hip Hop and one song in particular provided the backbeats for innumerable Rap songs over the years. That song, “Funky Drummer,” was recorded at King’s studios 45 years ago in Cincinnati’s Evanston neighborhood.
Samples of Clyde Stubblefield’s drum break on “Funky Drummer” have powered classic Hip Hop tracks by the likes of N.W.A. (“Fuck the Police”), Boogie Down Productions (“South Bronx”), Public Enemy (“Bring the Noise,” “Fight the Power”), LL Cool J (“Mama Said Knock You Out”), De La Soul (“The Magic Number”), Ice-T (“O.G. Original Gangster”), Dr. Dre (“Let Me Ride”) and countless others. That break’s influence has never waned, as Nicki Minaj, Lupe Fiasco, Mos Def and many more producers and artists continue to find inspiration from the funkiest of funky beats. (And its influence extends beyond Hip Hop, having been featured on The Stone Roses’ classic “Fool’s Gold,” and tracks by everyone from Sinead O’Connor and George Michael to Aphex Twin and Korn.)
Tomorrow (June 7), some ’80s/’90s Hip Hop greats will honor the 45th anniversary of Stubblefield’s recording of that beat with an outdoor concert/block party near the site where it was recorded (in the 1500 block of Brewster Ave. in Evanston). The Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation, along with Eastwood Entertainment, Lando Chapman, City of Cincinnati and the Bootsy Collins Foundation, have joined forces to bring “The Alumni Tour,” featuring a variety of old-school Hip Hop greats, to town for the special event, dubbed “Lando’s Old School Block Party.”
The concert will feature performances by Kwame, Dana Dane, Special Ed and Chubb Rock, each of whom understand the power and influence of “Funky Drummer.”
Saturday’s celebration will also feature appearances by the JB-approved “Young James Brown,” King artists Phillip Paul and Otis Williams and the Funkmaster General himself, Bootsy Collins.
Showtime is 7 p.m. (gates open at 5 p.m.). Tickets are $25 and can purchased in advance here. (Only those 21-and-up are permited.)
Proceeds from the event will benefit the Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation’s ongoing efforts to draw attention to and preserve the legacies of Cincinnati’s rich musical past. The organization continues to do great things to honor downtown’s former Herzog Studios (where Hank Williams and many others recorded iconic tracks) and the group is currently supporting efforts to save and preserve the original site of King Records’ facilities and also attempts to have a permanent marker placed at the site of the old Riverfront Coliseum (now U.S. Bank Arena) in memory of the 11 fans who lost their lives in 1979 trying to get in to see The Who perform (a tragic event that led to the betterment of concert safety procedures throughout the industry).
Hugely popular Canadian Electro Funk duo Chromeo is bringing its groovy sound and stage show to this year’s MidPoint Music Festival. Chromeo’s tour in support of its recently-released fourth album, White Women, will include a headlining turn at MPMF.14 as the twosome heads up the bill on the Washington Park stage on Thursday, Sept. 25.
Chromeo performed the single “Jealous (I Ain’t With It)” on The Late Show with David Letterman a few weeks ago (to the apparent delight of the soon-to-be-retired host):
And the duo worked the crowd into a lather from the main stage at this year’s Coachella festival, drawing acclaim from outlets like The Hollywood Reporter, who declared Chromeo’s appearance one of the Top 10 sets of the entire Californian fest.
Chromeo’s White Women single “Come Alive” features MPMF alum Toro Y Moi:
Three-day passes for MPMF.14 (running Sept. 25-27 in various venues across Over-the-Rhine and Downtown) are on sale now for just $69 at mpmf.cincyticket.com (there are also a few early-bird-priced VIP tickets available). Single-show tickets for Chromeo’s Washington Park appearance go on sale this Friday. (Single-show tickets to Washington Park’s Friday night performances on Sept. 26 — which include headliners The Afghan Whigs — are on sale now at the CincyTicket link.)
Click here to check out some of the other previously announced performers.
The gods of Rock must have known that Alice In Chains was in town on Saturday, May 17 as the area around the Horseshoe Casino was dreary, cloudy and cold. It’s as if they transplanted a little bit of Seattle into downtown Cincinnati for much of the day. Luckily the rain held off for the show, allowing the sold-out crowd to bear witness to a classic Grunge act proving just how energetic and relevant they still are.
Canadian quartet Monster Truck kicked off the show before the advertised 8 p.m. show time, meaning a large number of fans missed out on much of the band’s set. But the fans that did get to catch Monster Truck’s Southern-fried Rock were in for a treat. These denim-clad and bearded boys sound like they’re from Georgia more than Ontario, playing rippers that would make Lynyrd Skynyrd raise their beers to the sky. Monster Truck’s shirts read in big, block letters: “Don’t Fuck With The Truck.” After their set, I doubt anybody considered doing so.
Monster Truck’s set was a great warm up for the main attraction, but the crowd was really there for one reason and one reason only. At 8 p.m. sharp, as the opening lines to “Them Bones” rumbled through the stacks, Alice In Chains stormed the stage to prove exactly why they can still sell out venues almost 30 years after their formation. Vocalist/guitarist William DuVall (who joined the group after original frontman Layne Staley’s death in 2002) brings a constant energy and dynamic stage presence that revitalizes not only the crowd but his own bandmates. Bassist Mike Inez and guitarist/vocalist Jerry Cantrell became visibly more active and engaged whenever DuVall entered their stage space.
This isn’t to say that the old school members were slacking. Inez and drummer Sean Kinney still banged out rhythms that probably made the Horseshoe’s windows quake a bit. And Cantrell plays the hell out of his guitar, playing through Alice In Chains’ iconic riffs with such power and intensity, it’s obvious that his newfangled haircut didn’t cause a Metallica-esque loss in Metal credibility.
The set featured a mix of classics like “Man in the Box” and “Rooster,” deep cuts and hits from the DuVall albums like “Check My Brain,” insuring that fans of all eras happy. Even casual fans such as myself (my set list notes have more question marks than actual song titles) had plenty to latch on and sing along to. The trio banged out each song so powerfully that even unfamiliar tracks came across as timeless classics.
The band’s interaction with fans is particularly notable as well. DuVall made efforts to point out fans who were truly enjoying the show, Cantrell invited a father and son up on stage because of the child’s enthusiasm in the front row and Kinney had the crowd call a lawyer’s office whose billboard was in his sight line for the entire performance. Judging by all the screens floating in the air, I feel bad for their receptionist.
As the show wound down and Alice In Chains played their encore, consisting of “Don’t Follow,” “No Excuses,” and “Would?” the crowd slowly filed out and were greeted by a group of religious protesters touting the dangers of gambling and Rock & Roll (sex and drugs were noticeably absent from their complaints). They were largely ignored but after the hour and a half concert experience that I’d just been a part of, all I felt was a bit of pity for them. They missed one hell of a show.
The air may have been Seattle cold but after almost three decades and five albums, Alice In Chains are still white hot.