Alice in Chains Live at the Newport Centre

264Alice in Chains‘ current UK tour in support of their latest album, the excellent yet strangely undervalued The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here finally wound its way to its finale, in the compact surroundings of Newport Centre, a venue with a special place in my heart as it was the site of my first “proper” gig (Def Leppard, 6th September, 1987, in case you were wondering).

Important “business meetings” meant we missed Duff McKagan‘s The Walking Papers (alright, alright, we were in the pub) but the “word” was they had gone down well and Mr McKagan’s signing slot at the merchandising stall did plenty of good work for his (presumably already burgeoning) bank account.

Ghost‘s irresistable rise is no fluke: take a bucketload of excellent tunes, a work ethic par excellence and a modern pantomime and you have a mix that delights and compels in just about equal measure. You can’t really go wrong with the dark infectious melodies of Year Zero or Prime Mover and Papa Emeritus is a cult in his own right. He falls into that camp of “frontman who barely moves” but it matters not a jot as we are swept along on the sheer joy of Ghost’s twisted and macabre worldview.

I had moderate expectations for Alice in Chains; I really, really should have known better. It was, in a word, phenomenal. Here’s another word: stunning. And a third: exceptional. It’s hard to know where to start with this review as I keep wanting to add in superlatives and effusive adjectives at every moment but this was something very special indeed. Starting the set with Dirt was always going to be a crowd pleaser and so it proves but what really sets AIC apart tonight is just how tight this band are. And how loud. Jerry Cantrell’s guitar sound is ridiculously good this evening- crystal clear with riffs that shake you to the core. I’d heard rumours that the band were going to “mess around” with the setlist. OK, if that means playing all of my favourite songs then they can mess around all they want, quite frankly. A glorious Again, a powerhouse Check My Brain and a scintillating Phantom Limb are but three peaks in a mountain range of a set. Nutshell sounds terrific this evening, its introspection and reflectiveness brought to the fore by Duvall’s vocalising which is both passionate and nuanced.  I bow to no man in my admiration for No Excuses and I am proved right with its exquiste rendition. Throw in a corking airing of Sludge Factory and an ever reliable tritych of Down in a Hole, Would? and Rooster and you have, ladies and gentlemen, some of the most compelling evidence of one of the gigs of the year, if not THE gig of the year. Absolutely, unequivocally, outstanding.