It’s Academy WeatherTM in Manchester tonight, with the long walk down Oxford Road punctuated by the usual splashes right up the trouser from the odd loose paving stone. Despite the increasingly wet nether regions, however, the prospect of yet another killer live bill is preventing spirits from being dampened as we head towards a night with Alice In Chains, Ghost and Walking Papers.
The Academy is moderately busy as roadies ready the stage for Walking Papers, the latest band featuring former Guns N’ Roses four-stringer Duff McKagan. Purveyors of a decent brand of blues-tinged rock and roll, the group are obviously experienced and talented and get some heads nodding, but singer Jeff Angell appears disappointed with both the turnout and the reaction. In reality, he should be grateful, and let’s be honest here, that so many have rocked up at 7pm on a cold Monday evening solely to see what Duff McKagan’s been up to lately.
It’s a shame that Angell is initially a touch downbeat, since Walking Papers play some great stuff, with McKagan himself in outstanding form. Former Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin is full of stick-twirling showmanship and Benjamin Anderson bangs the holy hell out of his keyboard to raucous effect and eventually Angell joins in by hopping into the crowd to give high fives, his charm offensive receiving some worthy adulation. Overall, Walking Papers’ set is full of hip swaying goodness that will hopefully see some Euro festival slots next year.
And so to Ghost. This is the venue I first experienced them in a couple of years previously and since then they’ve released an album of the year candidate, but the band are still greeted with more static than a TV aerial pointing directly into a hippo’s undercarriage. I really don’t know what it is about the Swedish ghouls, whether people are just in awe of the spectacle, if a support slot with Alice In Chains is misjudged or if the typically reserved British public simply don’t know what to do with themselves, but if a pounding ‘Per Aspera ad Inferi’ and a groove-riddled ‘Stand By Him’ don’t get feet jiggling I don’t know what will.
I just pray to Lucifer that Papa and the gang finally tour these shores on their own headline outing so the brethren can get well and truly involved. Tonight, it’s only after a spine-tingling ‘Year Zero’ that the audience really acknowledges the grandeur of their music and despite a clap-a-long ‘Ritual’ and faux-encore ‘Monstrance Clock’, Ghost remain on the very cusp of awkward UK audience acceptance.
If there is an unsold ticket for tonight then you’re going to struggle to find it as people almost stack on top of each other to witness the return of Alice In Chains. Latest release The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here is arguably a career best album from the grunge godfathers and after two records with vocalist William DuVall, the band are playing with an intensity and drive that belies the fact they’re in their 27th year.
Opening up with ‘Again’, the crowd are instantly in awe and as ‘Check My Brain’ and a euphoric ‘Them Bones’ are banged out, the love in the room is almost tangible. ‘Hollow’ and ‘Voices’ from the band’s latest opus are heavier live than on record and the groovy sludge is powerfully accompanied by DuVall and Jerry Cantrell’s amazing harmonies. ‘Man In The Box’ will be the standard bearer for many AIC fans and tonight it feels as fresh as it did when doing the rounds on MTV in its heyday, whilst ‘We Die Young’, ‘Grind’ and ‘Got Me Wrong’ are all greeted like the bride at a wedding, with doe-eyed fans worshipping at the feet of such classic songs.
Closing the main set with the grace and elegance of ‘Nutshell’ and a balls-out ‘Would?’, no-one in attendance wants this night to ever end. Returning to the stage for an encore of ‘Down In A Hole’, ‘It Ain’t Like That’ and of course ‘Rooster’, Alice In Chains not only sound good tonight, they look amazing, happy and proud to be playing to such adoration, which includes numerous ‘Jerry, Jerry’ chants throughout the night.
It’s almost as if the ghost of Layne Staley is watching over the band, content that not only does DuVall more than do justice to early AIC classics, but he’s also helped the band carry on to even bigger and better things. Sean Kinney’s drum kit may bear the initials ‘LSMS’ in memory of Staley and former bassist Mike Starr but this is no memorial to the once-great, this is a celebration of what came before just as much as it is the here and now.
A superb bill, an emotional night and a set rammed so full of classics you’re going to struggle to listen to any other band’s records for the rest of the year. Simply stunning stuff.