Alice In Chains + Ghost BC + Walking Papers @ O2 Academy, Birmingham – Wednesday 13 November 2013

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Review by Jason Guest

The opening band for tonight’s show was going to be Scar The Martyr, but given the difference in style to the other two bands on the bill (and that their album isn’t all that great), it was a wise move to hand it over to Walking Papers. Besides also being from Seattle, their soulful blues/Americana rock has more in common with the headliners than Jordison’s band and so this band are best suited to this bill, a notion compounded by the audience’s more than warm response.

With Duff McKagan still managing to channel his inner Sid Vicious while maintaining a cool, blues rock, road-wise persona, his bass lines, as ever, serve the rhythm section well in their rhythm simplicity and melodic splendour. Drummer Barrett Martin (of Screaming Trees, Skin Yard, Mad Season, and countless others) keeps the beat tied in tightly with Duff, sustaining a deceptively simple-yet-moving pulse to keep the music rollin’ on down the road. Keysmith Benjamin Anderson almost steals the show with his light touch, his chords, melodies and occasional flourish casting a vibrant and evocative hue over the soulful songs. And frontman Jeff Angell, a cool guitarist with a refined touch and a subtle flair for the slide, works the crowd with his emotive vocal approach. Together, more than just a bunch of experienced musicians, Walking Papers sound like a seasoned band, wise from their travels and fired by a cool passion. If you haven’t heard them, check them out. Their music’s a grower and, better, a stayer.

Okay, so Scar The Martyr weren’t the most apt of bands to be on this particular bill so what of that fly in the ointment that is Ghost BC? This band fit nowhere but on the top of their own bill, in their own venue, with their own set design. So while at first it may not appear to be best for them to be sandwiched between the blues/rock/Americana of Walking Papers and the leaden emotion of grunge gods Alice in Chains, here Ghost BC can only augment their being as a unique and refreshing entity – oddity? – in the metal spectrum. But better than that, Ghost BC are a fucking pop band. Taking their cues from the likes of Abba and George Harrison, they’ve committed the ultimate sin and sold us exactly what we’ve been wanting for a long time: songs laced with sing-along choruses, a “Satanic” image, and a grand myth on a par with Kiss and Spinal Tap’s ‘Stonehenge’.

Onstage, their persona is so much more than the nameless ghouls that make up their number. The stage, the music, and the myths are their persona, an elaborately constructed entity that’s had more effort put into it than Cowell and his culture-crushing cohorts ever contribute to their ill-conceived concoctions. With a black backdrop leaving a fairly simple light show to do all the work, the show isn’t perhaps as powerful as it could be but is still a chillingly entertaining experience.  Having had time to digest Infestissumam, the new tracks get the reception they’ve been awaiting, and the inclusion of their Dave Grohl-produced Rocky Erikson cover, ‘If You Have Ghosts’, is a masterstroke in tongue-in-cheek self-awareness. Ghost BC know what they’re doing and they’re doing it incredibly well. Forty five minutes is nowhere near enough but it’ll suffice. They should be headlining their own show.

Set List: Masked Ball; Infestissumam; Per Aspera Ad Inferi; Conclave Von Dio; Stand By Him; Prime Mover; If You Have Ghosts (Roky Erickson Cover); Year Zero; Ritual; Monstrance Clock

There’s little to say about Alice in Chains. This band is an institution. They’ve outlived the grunge tag that was quickly – and erroneously – stuck to the band because of the time and place of their origin. Like AC/DC, Iron Maiden, Motorhead, and Metallica, you know what you’re in for. Like Black Gives Way To Blue, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here (reviewed here) is Alice In Chains being Alice In Chains: haunting vocal melodies, dark lyrics, and riffs the size of, well, dinosaurs. And they still sound fresh. The lights go down, the curtains part to reveal Kinney’s kit between two huge projection screens, and the crowd goes nuts. And like the last time they were here in November 2009, what we get is a master class in live performance.

Kinney, tucked between the two screens, is the engine of the band, his style adding innovative touches that most drummers couldn’t conceive of. Inez is still the happiest bassist on the planet, his smile as prominent as his monstrous tone and beefy bass lines. Jerry Cantrell maintains his custom cool throughout the gig, nodding knowingly with the audience as his grinding riffs, innovative leads, and chilling vocal harmonies fill the room. And Duvall, while his stage persona may be a little more “rockstar” than the band’s music perhaps demands, he’s still a great frontman, his commanding presence balanced with his cool crowd banter. And with a set list spanning their career with not one track out of place, band and crowd are one throughout. It’s been four years since they last paid us a visit and it was well worth the wait. See you next time. Sometime about 2017, perhaps?

Set List: Again; Check My Brain; Them Bones; Hollow; Voices; Man In The Box; No Excuses; Grind; Got Me Wrong; It Ain’t Like That; Stone; We Die Young; Nutshell; Love, Hate, Love

Encore: Whale And Wasp; Down In A Hole; Would? Rooster