Yeah, it’s over now,
But I can breathe somehow.
Alice In Chains
The list of my favourite bands in High School, that I hoped to see live sometime in my life-time:
- Pearl Jam – March 6th, 1995
- Soundgarden – Febuary 2nd & 3rd, 1997
- Alice in Chains – February 28th, 2009
- Nirvana (or as close as I’m gonna get) – Foo Fighters, February 6th, 2000, February 2nd, 2003
- The Smashing Pumpkins (or as close as I’m gonna get) – Billy Corgan and the Smashing Pumpkins Experience – April 6th, 2008
- Red Hot Chili Peppers – May 10th, 1996
- Faith No More – November 1st, 1997
- The Afghan Whigs (or as close as I’m gonna get) – The Twilight Singers – August 7th, 2006, January 12th & 13th, 2007
- Radiohead – February 10th, 1998
- Nine Inch Nails – February 2nd, 2000, August 19 & 20th (thanks to The Unholy Trinity), 2005, February 28th, 2009
- Marilyn Manson – February 7th 1999, October 13th, 2007
- Tool – April 16th, 1997 (curse you over 18s venues!), May 4th, 2002 & February 4th, 2007
The last time I posted this list anywhere, it was when I was on my way to see Billy Corgan’s resurrected Smashing Pumpkins (or as I like to call them, Billy Corgan and the Smashing Pumpkins Experience) at the Perth leg of the V Festival. I thought, at the time, that that would be it. That my list was as close to being complete as it would ever be. And while some of the substitute bands I’ve included are a stretch – for instance, it’s highly unlikely Dave Grohl would ever bust out Drain You at a Foo Fighters gig – I’d done pretty well with what I had to work with.
Turns out, I was wrong. But before I tell that story, some catching up is in order.
Firstly, you need to understand that this list is also very much of it’s time. Of course I’ve come across bands since high-school that I’ve wanted to see live. I could probably make another list twice as long, and just as many – if not, more – would be crossed off. But it’s not the same thing. These days, the chances are pretty high that if I discover a band from hearing them on the radio or a blog somewhere , they’ve probably already made it, and are about to either tour my city, state or country, or be added to a festival line-up sometime soon.
No, this list is much bigger than just a passing interest in a band or artist of the moment. It’s the combination of many things. The time – my adolescence, the mid 90s, the period in which I discovered and developed a love for music. The place – Australind, Western Australia, ten minutes out of Bunbury (our nearest major centre), two hours drive south from the most isolated capital city in the world. A two-and-a-half hour train ride from anything close to resembling a live music scene. No car. No license. No job or substantial income. This list had many odds stacked against it, and by rights, shouldn’t really be as complete as it is.
I’ve already written elsewhere about my ‘Musical Awakening‘, so I’m not going to go into it all again here. The short story goes something along the lines of: first there was Pearl Jam – or Nirvana, I can’t remember which way it went. In my head, they just appeared one day and never left. Soundgarden I found via Rage, specifically through the Jesus Christ Pose video. Somehow, I found out that the (older) year ten girl (who I think was named Megan), who sat next to me in band had their album (badmotorfinger), and the next week, after some badgering, I had a cassette copy. The Smashing Pumpkins also came from Rage – the Today video specifically, played as part of a Big Day Out special. Alice In Chains came from my friend Luke, who played bass in the band I was in for a short time. This is a much longer story for another time. Luke was always into the heavier side of rock, but I always trusted his taste. So, when he brought Alice in Chain’s album Dirt in one day, I knew I had to hear it. And I did. And I loved it.
Over time, more and more bands came to me. Some only staying a short time, while others hung around for, well, forever. And as my musical world began to open up, I started to become aware that I was only really experiencing half the picture. That while blasting my cassingle of Go by Pearl Jam at a ridiculously early hour of the morning before school was cool, there had to be more than this. There had to be a next step. A next level. Much like belts in karate. Or drugs.
My steady diet of Rage continued and as my bands (because they were my bands) became more well known, I started seeing clips and highlights from live shows. Shaky video footage from a crowded bar somewhere in the US. Professional videos from European festivals, with crane shots flying over crowds of thousands. Clips from MTV Unplugged performances. The requisite minute-or-so of blurry super 8 footage of the band playing live that appeared in every SubPop video. I devoured it all. I collected as much as I could, copying highlights and compiling VHS tapes of video clips and performances. No youtube. No digitising here then outputting there to an MP4 or AVI to watch on my laptop later. Just two VHS video recorders – press record on one, play on the other and hope for the best.
It was then I knew, live was the next step. It was one thing to have these bands playing the soundtrack of my life through my cassette walkman, another to collecting all of the videos and concert performances I could, but to actually be there and be a part of the live experience. That’s where I needed to be.
Then I remembered where I lived, and how far away from any sort of civilisation I was. And it all came crashing down. I mean, why would any of these bands ever come to Australia, let alone Perth? My friends and I would read reports from bands playing Sydney and Melbourne. Of this magical festival tour called the Big Day Out that had managed to somehow entice Nirvana to our country to play shows. And even when the Big Day Out made it to Perth, there was no way our parents would let us go. It was really best to just stop wishing.
But then, everything changed. Pearl Jam toured Australia in March, 1995. Better still, they were coming to Perth. And even better still, my friends and I had tickets – which is another story in itself. Eventually, the day came, and even on the car ride up, we couldn’t believe it was happening. Even while standing in line at the venue, it felt too good to be true. Even as we sat and waited patiently for The Meanies – who had won the opening slot by beating Pearl Jam in a game of ten pin bowls, they told us – to finish their set, we couldn’t imagine the ways our lives were about to change.
And how they did.
The things you need to know about the show: They opened with Oceans from Ten. And at that moment, all of a sudden, I felt I knew what it was to be one of those screaming girls they used to show in live clips of The Beatles. They closed with Yellow Ledbetter, a b-side from the Jeremy single . They did not play Alive, but at the time it didn’t even register, nor did I really care when I did realise. And the sound of a filled-to-capacity Entertainment Centre singing along to Daughter will probably stay with me forever.
It was later that night on the car ride home where my list started to truly come together. I’d just seen Pearl Jam, my favourite band in the entire world, perform live. Anything was possible. I mentally ran through my CD collection and thought of who else I needed to see. What my favourite songs would sound like echoing through a concert hall. Or across an oval or a field at a festival.
Thus, the list was created. Over the next couple of years it morphed in to what you see now. Bands came and went, but at its core were the big four – Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Nirvana and Alice in Chains. The same four bands I would list automatically whenever anyone asked me what music I was into. Before this was Faith No More, a little later came The Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, then eventually Tool and Marilyn Manson. A little later still, Radiohead. And in amongst it all, never really fitting – like they never seemed to do – The Afghan Whigs. And I rated my chances with each. Nirvana was scratched pretty early, for obvious reasons . Soundgarden were gaining some popularity with Superunknown and had already played a Big Day Out, so they could be back, right? So too had The Smashing Pumpkins. Nine Inch Nails and Faith No More both played Alternate Nation, so they were at least aware we existed, and I’d heard Faith No More had toured on Angel Dust and even The Real Thing. All that was really left were The Afghan Whigs and Alice in Chains. Now, I knew the Whigs would be a challenge. They were yet to really even big recognised in the US, much less Australia, much less Perth. They were going to be a struggle, and I knew it. Alice in Chains however were always an unknown. While people had heard of them, they didn’t have much of a following or presence here. With no major singles or albums, they kind of became another one of those ‘Seattle Bands’ people would rattle off in the same breath as that horrible ‘G’ word that you’ve probably noticed I’ve skirted around several times.
Never-the-less, they stayed on my list.
Time passed and my list slowly, gradually, started having names crossed off. I caught some opportunities and missed others. Somehow, I missed the Pumpkins on their Melon Collie tour, but did manage to see Soundgarden (twice) and Faith no More mere months before both bands imploded. The Chilli Peppers provided me with the first real disapointment from my list – but then, they were touring on One Hot Minute, so what did I expect? I saw half a Marilyn Manson show at the Big Day Out, then the rest of one many years later, leaving with the wish that I’d not. I had tickets to see Tool in ’97, but since they played Metropolis and I wasn’t yet 18, I had to pass them onto a friend. That night, my girlfriend at the time and several of my high-school friends met Maynard. A story they always enjoyed telling whenever they got the chance. A classic Nine Inch Nails line-up (featuring Danny and Robin) played a Big Day Out, and Radiohead stopped in Perth on their ‘Play Every City in the Goddamn World and Hate Every Moment of it’ OK Computer Tour. And even with every odd stacked against me, I’ve managed to see the Greg Dulli (of The Afghan Whigs) led Twilight Singers, not just once, but three times. And, I’ve met Greg twice – once in Copenhagan, and once in Sydney. And he rememberd me the second time.
A story that I will tell given any opportunity.
At this stage, I’m going to assume many of you are asking “Mark, where is this going? I’ve got things to do, and while I enjoy reading you talk about your halcyon days, it is getting rather late.” Sorry. I’ve not written this much in a while, and I didn’t really have a plan going into it. Really, the whole point of this thing was to tell you all that the weekend gone, I finished my list. That was it really. It just kinda got out of hand. To which you might say “Oh, it’s ok, really. Just, if you could wrap it up soon, that would be great. I’ve got to collect the kids from kindy.” Really? When did you have kids? Man, it’s been a while since we’ve spoken, hasn’t it! Sorry, I’ve just been feeling really anti-social of late, and I’ve had a lot on my mind. Wow, kids. Really? That’s awesome man. What are they’re names? Where do they go to school? So many questions! It’s good to see you by the way. Did you want a drink or something to eat? To which you’ll probably say, impatiently, “Ah, no thanks. Now, your story?” as you tap your foot and check the time for what I notice to be the third or maybe even fourth time.
Anyway, the big gap in my list was always Alice in Chains. Sometime in early 2002, I read news that Layne Staley had died of an over-dose. I’d not listened to the band in a good while, and while they never left my list, they didn’t really fit into my current tastes. I didn’t even read the news on an Alice in Chains website. It was on Toolshed.down.net from memory. And, I remember the post said:
“Lastly, it has been one week since we learned that Layne Staley died. What can one say? For all of us in the know, it most certainly did rain when we heard.”
I felt awful. A week had passed and I was only reading it now? What kind of fan was I? A bit of digging on the internet later, and while the news wasn’t that widely reported, it was true. Layne had died of a drug overdose. I put on Nutshell from Jar of Flies, and just sat. It was raining outside.
Last Saturday, at the Soundwave Festival in Adelaide, I saw a reformed Alice in Chains perform live, with new vocallist William DuVall. About halfway through the set, they said they wanted to dedicate a song to their friend, Layne. They played Nutshell.
And I’m not afraid or ashamed to admit that I lost my shit. Completely.
For anyone who’s interested, I’m sure you’ve already read many glowing reviews of Alice in Chain’s performances at the Soundwave shows. There isn’t much else to be said. They played amazingly. The set was as close to perfect as it could be. Is it odd to see another in the place of Layne? Yeah, it is. But what they’re doing works. Somehow, it all comes together. Layne had such a unique voice, and replacing him was always going to be hard. But DuVall isn’t a replacement, nor does he pretend to be. His voice is his, and while there are some eerie similarities to Staley in there, he makes the songs his own. And after the initial shock wears off, there is no doubt that you’re watching an Alice in Chains show. This is not a desperate, last grab for cash. Nor is it an embarassing re-invention. Or an ‘Alice in Chains Experience‘. It’s the real deal. Four guys, playing amazing songs that carry the same feeling and weight they always did.
And with that, the list was complete. It took close to fourteen years, and some travel, but I managed to do it. I can’t help but feel a little sad the journey is over. That, for some reason, that chapter of my life feels a lot more closed than it used to be. But, if you know me, you’ll know I don’t let go of these things easily. So many times while writing this, I remembered other stories that flesh this tale out. Other characters that have come and gone from my life. And, there’s a growing need in me to get all this down. To tell my stories. I’m not sure if we’re done with this just yet. I guess we’ll see, won’t we?
And if you’ve made it this far, I say thank you. If you skipped over the rest of it just to get this far and look at the pictures… yeah, that’s fair too.
Hopefully the next one will be sorter.
 It should be noted that, once upon a time, “on a blog somewhere” would’ve read “on Rage”, but that’s a topic for another day.
 Yes, a b-side. I’m one of those fans.
 And yes, for the trainspotters out there, Kurt died before Pearl Jam ever toured Australia. Chronologically, Nirvana shouldn’t really be there. But you weren’t there. It’s my list and I’ll put whoever the fuck I want to on it, ok? Thanks.