Published Aug 23, 2014Two parts retro and one part nostalgia = the formula for a Friday arena rock show on a muggy August night in Hamilton. Introducing the retro but offering what was really the most contemporary set of the night was Vancouver garage rock duo The Pack A.D.. Remarking on the "brave few" before them (the venue was still nearly empty), the band quickly introduced themselves and kicked off their first song. The two woman guitar/drums combo sounded powerfully heavy live, raw in attitude more than execution. They broke up the steady groove with a little rhythmic variation and a touch of melody (even verging on catchy), and persistently refused to end a track with a solid sense of resolution. Each song seemed to ramp up into near-explosion only to stop and break apart, hinting at noisy chaos but never quite going there.
Monster Truck followed not long after, playing up and exploiting their "hometown boys" status to the point of excess. By this time many more seats were filled and the noise level was dramatically higher, and the band's tight performance was deserving of the excitement (though the Pack A.D. were also deserving — just under-attended). Monster Truck ranged from an AC/DC-ish hard rock (with guitarist Jeremy Widerman even moving about like Angus Young at times) to a much more bluesy sound and even a touch of Deep Purple (emphasized by the organ work of Brandon Bliss). They pulled it all off with ease, although the heavy bluesy rock seems to be their ideal niche. And despite a bass cameo by Alice in Chains' Mike Inez and screamo support from George Pettit (Alexisonfire), Monster Truck held their own, refusing to be upstaged.
A brief moment of atmospheric mystery introduced Alice in Chains, and by the time the band appeared, excitement levels were much higher. With two parts retro already wrapped up, the nostalgia of the night belonged entirely to Alice in Chains, and they milked it to the utmost by performing a set drawn almost entirely from their '90s golden age. They delivered on their first few tracks, despite a technical problem mentioned by guitarist Jerry Cantrell. William DuVall, meanwhile, continues to prove his frontman skills, with or without a guitar strapped to his chest.
But as the evening progressed, the focus and energy onstage seemed to ebb somewhat. Whether it was an ongoing technical problem or some other disturbance, things began to sound just a tiny bit off, culminating in a complete if brief fuck-up going into "It Ain't Like That" and finally ending in a version of "Rooster" that lacked the extreme contrasts that make the song so powerful. Alice in Chains were and are good, no mistake, but this couldn't have been their best night. Perhaps tomorrow at Casino Rama will be better…