Alice In Chains, Down – Palace Theatre, Melbourne 27/02/14

Phil Anselmo had retired to the side of the stage. His forehead, which protruded from his heavy, almost simian skull, was bleeding from repeated self-inflicted stabbings with his own microphone.

His smile forced a satisfied kind of wince as he watched ex-Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan, Vernon Reid and Doug Wimbish of Living Colour, and Walking Papers drummer Barrett Martin engage in a distorted free-for-all, amidst hugs and high-fives from the members of his own band, Down. He was draped in a fan-made cloak, really a banner, which bore the words, “Down – Bury Us In Smoke.” Their set was over, so the crowd took it upon themselves to do so instead. It’s all about helping each other out in this little community.

William DuVall was soon on stage with his brothers in Alice In Chains, leading everyone in glorious screams of “Aaargh!” as the twisted, rise-from-the-grave riff of Them Bones surged through amps barely built to contain the kind of distortion-fuelled dread that Jerry Cantrell was commanding. Dam That River would soon stomp into the crowd at equal velocity, before DuVall finally removed the sunglasses that had been shielding him from a pool of increasingly sweat-soaked, grunting fans and gave a warm “Hello.”

Having scattered backstage following Down’s monolithic set, the all-star roster of Soundwave 2014 bands began to creep slowly back to the sides of the stage. To the right, Down guitarist Pepper Keenan was sharing a laugh with bandmate Patrick Bruders, as Mike Dirnt of Green Day sat with drink in hand beside his wife.

To the left, Reid and Wimbish had returned, flanking a sublime one-two-three performance of Check My Brain, Hollow, and Phantom Limb. Both were grinning. Nearer to the exit of the stage stood a collection of wives and girlfriends, all of them blonde and effortlessly stylish. Their seamless grace was soon eclipsed by the barrelling walk of a burly cro-magnon, still bleeding from the forehead.

“This next one is a request by Mr Philip H Anselmo,” explained DuVall, placing himself behind an acoustic guitar. As the sombre chords of Nutshell resonated throughout The Palace, Anselmo stood with a fearsome underbite, occasionally broken by a smile or the miming of lyrics he knew by heart. As the beautiful and elegiac economy of notes held in Cantrell’s classic lead surged, Anselmo made no attempt to hide his glee, spiritedly air-guitaring along with him and unknowingly mimicking many in the audience who were similarly overcome.

An A Looking in ViewWe Die YoungStone triumvirate divided the crowd, with a chasm now placed between those who were happy to nod along with uninterrupted satisfaction and those who were making a push for the cordon. Occasionally, bodies would fly into the gap and express their simultaneous joy and sexual frustration with well-honed slam dancing chops. But by then it all seemed predictive of what would ensue tenfold when the next song was played. One that spoke of household pets, lurking machine gun men, and mosquito death.

Following a low-lit pause, the band returned. “We like our job,” said Cantrell in a mock Southern accent. The crowd had mostly deciphered the familiar faces that sat either ends of the stage, who watched on with equal parts admiration and appreciation, and were presumably what was pushing the band to take the extra mile and extend it even further.

They mirrored the crowd, who seemed to be tapping endless wells of yet unused energy as they pushed through the final trifecta of Got Me Wrong, Again, and Would?, while helping those who’d stumbled or fallen. A community in the pit, as much as on the stage.

Gallery: Alice In Chains – Soundwave 2014, Sydney

Photos by Yael Stempler

Watch: Soundwave 2014 Interviews – Alice In Chains

Watch: Soundwave 2014 Interviews – Down

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