Alice in Chains, Jane's Addiction, Coheed and Cambria and Circa Survive Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion August 29, 2013
If there's anything that Rockstar Energy Drink loves more than jacking kids up on near-fatal doses of caffeine and sugar, it's putting together pre-fabricated, traveling music festivals to help advertise its wares. A few weeks back, it was Rob Zombie and Five Finger Death Punch rumbling into the Woodlands as part of Rockstar's Mayhem Festival. Thursday night, the Uproar Festival got a turn.
Or some of it, anyway. Thanks to the weeknight booking and the Pavilion's strict curfew, Houston only got the main-stage acts: about a third of the bands that will be appearing in Albuquerque on Saturday.
A lot of us got fewer than that. The logistics of navigating Houston's rush hour traffic, finding parking and hiking through the trees to the Pavilion wasn't so quick and simple a task, and to call the crowd sparse during opener Circa Survive's 6:20 p.m. set time would be putting it kindly. By the time I made it inside, the Philly post-hardcore unit was already wrapping up.
The Pavilion still wasn't quite half-full when prog-pop fixtures Coheed and Cambria took the stage. I managed to find my seat in time to catch "A Favor House Atlantic," one of the band's breakthrough singles and a personal fave. Coheed's music, inspired by a sci-fi comic book tetralogy called the The Armory Wars dreamed up by hirsute frontman Claudio Sanchez, unabashedly runs a bit on the nerdy side of the heavy metal spectrum, and their technical skills are accordingly precise.
Always reliably energetic onstage, Coheed and Cambria are a good fit for big package tours like this one. It was a bit of a shame that more folks hadn't made it inside to hear them, but hey, they were just here in March for a headlining gig. Chances are, they'll be back soon. After all, comic-book sagas never end.
Coming on the heels of Coheed's crackling, upbeat romp, Jane's Addiction sounded a tad flat by comparison. Sure, all the band's early-'90s touchstones -- "Mountain Song," "Been Caught Stealing," "Stop!" and "Jane Says" -- were in place, anchored as always by Dave Navarro's slinky Gibson fireworks. And Lord knows the aging band is still in fantastic shape. But Perry Farrell's troupe often seemed to be going through the motions a bit on Thursday.
Maybe it was heat, or maybe it was the simple drudgery of running through the same setlist for the umpteenth time on this tour, but Jane's Addiction's legendary live intensity didn't quite live up to past performances. The tunes still sounded polished and even pointed at times, but the band never quite achieved escape velocity.
A spectacular light show, lascivious dancing girls and even a wince-inducing suspension performance helped make the set memorable, anyway. But "tired" is never a descriptor that should come to mind during a Jane's Addiction show. Only drummer Stephen Perkins appeared to be enjoying himself wholeheartedly up there. Pity Farrell couldn't have sucked down a few Rockstars before taking the stage.
Fortunately, headliners Alice in Chains seemed to soar from the very first note of set-opener "Them Bones." A large part of the credit has to go to front man William DuVall. While it's impossible to make fans forget the late Layne Staley's magnetic talent, DuVall is no slouch himself. On Thursday, he hit every note, effortlessly entwining his voice with Jerry Cantrell's in classic Alice in Chains fashion.
He showed off some impressive guitar licks, to boot. But beyond his musical contributions, DuVall is simply an engaging, likeable presence onstage, making the very prospect of a post-Layne AiC go down a lot more smoothly than it perhaps has any right to.
The band sounded distressed and mean on newer cuts like 2009's excellent "Check My Brain" and "Hollow" from this year's The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here. Naturally, though, it was the grunge classics that brought the now-crowded shed to its feet. A stomping rendition of "Man in the Box" lit the place up with 10,000 smiles as the crowd fervently sang along.
"Down in a Hole," that supreme, heroin-afflicted al-rock power ballad, was another major highlight. But it was another track from Dirt, the indomitable "Rooster," that brought the house down. The tautly drilled grunge survivors buffed the set-closer to a gleaming shine, and the audience responded ecstatically, rocking out, cheering and screaming along from start to finish.
The Pavilion's immovable 11 p.m. shutdown deadline prevented any prospect of an encore, but "Rooster" would have been pretty tough to follow, anyhow. They may be a gang of self-tagged dinosaurs, but Alice in Chains proved there's a strong streak of vitality left rattling around in those old bones yet.
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Personal Bias: All hail the '90s.
The Crowd: Slow to arrive, quick to leave.
Overheard in the Crowd: "New, black Layne is fucking excellent!"
Random Notebook Dump: After about 30 years of long tresses, Jerry Cantrell was sporting a short 'do on Thursday. Guess friends do let friends get haircuts.