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Concert Reviews:
Van Morrison, Alice In Chains Rock The Motor City

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Wednesday, November 8, 2006

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They were miles away, both physically and stylistically, but a pair of sold-out concerts Tuesday night -- Van Morrison at Detroit's Masonic Temple Theatre and Alice in Chains at the Emerald Theatre in Mt. Clemens -- lived up to and even surpassed any expectations fans could have had of them.

Making his first area appearance in 20 years, the famously mercurial Morrison started the evening by testing his audience's temperament. After the 61-year-old Irish singer arrived late on a flight from Oakland, Calif., the Masonic crowd was told the show, slated to start at 7:30 p.m. sharp, would now start an hour later. Then Morrison and his 10-piece band decided to hit the stage quicker than planned -- about 8:05 -- sending those who had stepped out to the lobby and basement bar scurrying back to their seats.

But Morrison and company made up for the confusion with a sparkling 19-song, 90-minute performance that validated the reverent regard his fans hold for him. Nodding to his latest album, "Pay the Devil," there was a country flavor to many of the song arrangements, spotlighting fiddler Tony Fitzgibbon and pedal steel player Cindy Cashdollar as well as the three Crawford Bell Singers, whose rich harmonies elevated renditions of "I Can't Stop Loving You," "Beautiful Vision" and "Precious Time."

Dressed in a black suit and fedora, Morrison himself was in strong voice and high spirits, clearly enjoying the music and the adoring audience reaction. He was also in a crowd-pleasing mood, filling the set with favorites such as "Back on Top," "Days Like This," a particularly jazzy take of "Moondance" (on which he played saxophone) and "St. James Infirmary." He pulled out the bluesy "Chippin' Away," introducing it with references to his father and his family in St. Clair Shores, and delivered an affecting version of "It's All in the Game," accenting it with the scatting vocalics of a rural preacher as he sang "when you really get into it, (it) lifts you right up."

He then proceeded to do just that by closing the evening with a run of hits -- "Wild Night," "Crazy Love," Sonny Boy Williamson's "Help Me," "Brown Eyed Girl" and "Gloria" -- and leaving without an encore, which is his custom, but with the 4,000 or so at the Masonic hoping it won't be another two decades before we see him again.

Out at the Emerald, there was no particularly new flavor to Alice in Chains' two-hour show. The remarkable thing was just how well the performance channeled the energy of the reunited band's late '80s/early '90s heyday.

Touring for the first time since 1996, and since frontman Layne Staley's death in 2002, the quartet as fresh, vital and powerful as it did when "Man in the Box" blasted onto rock radio 16 years ago. Guitarist Jerry Cantrell remains the heart and soul of the band, but bassist Mike Inez and drummer Sean Kinney showed Tuesday they are clearly its backbone, and William Duvall, a veteran of Cantrell's solo bands, won over the hard-moshing crowd early in the show.

Alice in Chains gave those fans just about everything they could have wanted -- hits ("Grind," "Heaven Beside You," "Rooster," "Would?"), a lengthy acoustic set that included "No Excuses" and "Down in a Hole," and video montages paying tribute to Staley and the band's history. Sponge frontman Vinnie Dombrowski also made a guest appearance to sing "Dam That River." And while there was clearly a tribute feel to this particular night, Alice in Chains showed it's well-positioned to move forward and regain the vaunted spot it once held in the modern rock scene.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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