What is grunge? I ponder as I’m waiting for Alice in Chains, the jolly grunge giants, to appear on the Main Stage, ending both their European tour and this year’s Ilosaarirock.
The first word associations from grunge are pale faces, greasy hair and drugs. That’s what Alice in Chains might have been in the 90′s: the founding vocalist Layne Staley suffered from substance abuse throughout the band’s existence, and his own existence ended in an overdose in 2002.
Despite their sad history, taking the stage on the warm Sunday evening is a cast-iron rock band in black T-shirts. Alice in Chains made a comeback in 2006 with William DuVall as their vocalist. This charismatic hunk in his afro, sunglasses and sneakers makes the audience go wild.
I cede the front of the stage to die-hard fans and drop back to where one can sit and breathe. In front of me two girls start dancing as soon as the first notes of Them Bones strum from the speakers. One shakes her rainbow-colored dreadlocks with reckless abandon, the other looks like she’s skiing uphill with no skis.
If I had any doubts about DuVall, the man’s charming screams shake them away. The singing is almost mean, the bass thumps your solar plexus and the guitars pluck on your eardrums.
The band is performing at the same time as the World Cup final. Luckily the football fans have been accommodated, as the stage hosts a living scoreboard: between songs two scantily-clad men strut on the stage with placards of the score, one wearing the Argentinian flag, one with Germany’s colors painted on his face.
When the slow roll of Check My Brain begins, fists are raised throughout the crowd. Soon two girls with flowers in their hairs plow over me from behind, entangled in a slightly inebriated version of tango steps. Though the evening air may be cooling, the band shows no signs of doing the same.
The sun finally sets and a pale moon rises. In Nutshell DuVall shows that he can do more than just Cobain-like bleating, in the jagged ballad his voice is clear and deep. Seagulls fly over a sea of raised lighters. I’m feeling sentimental and somber: soon all this will end.
But not just yet – there’s still half of a kick-ass gig to be experienced. They’re playing with the rhythm, and the guitars switch from space thunder to heavy metal gallop to fire truck wails to beehive buzz. The crowd is awash from the music and the stage lights.
Musically Alice in Chains is more than just straight-shooting and rugged grunge: it has some melodic rock and good old heavy metal. Before the encore the band powers through their iconic Rooster, a magnum opus from the guitarist Jerry Cantrell. The piece embodies grunge at its best: dark energy, scary in a good way, binding and cleansing its listeners.
The following Monday DuVall thanked the Ilosaarirock audience on Facebook and said that it was “Definitely my kind of festival.” A hearty thank you, Alice in Chains. You gave Ilosaarirock 2014 a worthy ending!
Text: Sini Heinoja
Photos: Tuukka Pakarinen
Translation: Jaakko Suvanto