Alice in Chains capped off a long day of hard rock, both new and old, Tuesday at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, bringing the evening to a perfect (and brutally heavy) close.
The ’90s grunge kingpins headlined the Rockstar Energy Drink Uproar Festival, playing last on a main stage bill that also included Jane’s Addiction, Coheed and Cambria and Circa Survive. While the day started at 2:30 p.m. with multiple smaller stages in SPAC’s parking lot, Alice in Chains was worth the admission price alone, playing with a fervor and skill unequaled by the other groups on the bill (which is saying something, considering every main stage act gave strong performances).
The group eased into its set, beginning at 9:45 with “Hollow” from this year’s “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here,” and sounding much fiercer than that record. William DuVall, replacing the late Layne Staley on lead vocals, and guitarist Jerry Cantrell immediately found their vocal footing, delivering the band’s trademark eerie harmonies with ease. Two classic songs, “Them Bones” and “Again,” brought the energy level in the amphitheater even higher, with DuVall once again proving his worth on the microphone. And a pumped up version of “Man in the Box” got the crowd screaming along on the anthemic choruses.
Throughout, the band kept up a solid mix of hits, album tracks and new songs, delivering some welcome surprises with the gentle “Got Me Wrong,” which gave DuVall a chance to take over on lead guitar while Cantrell handled lead vocals, and the deep cut “Junk Head” from 1992’s “Dirt” in the back half of the set. While thundering riffs were the main order of the day (the winding “Check My Brain” and another new snarler, “Stone”), two ballads stole the show — a moving rendition of “Nutshell” played mid-set that also served as a showcase for Cantrell’s soloing, and “Down in a Hole” late in the set, perhaps the band’s finest moment vocally.
Second-billed Jane’s Addiction brought the most sexual energy to the stage, thanks both to the provocative stage design and dancers and frontman Perry Farrell, who spent the entire hour-plus set strutting about the stage shirtless. The band stuck mainly to its classic early ’90s albums, although set opener “Underground” touched on 2011’s “The Great Escape Artist” briefly. “Mountain Song” and “1%” followed in quick succession, with Farrell’s howling and guitarist Dave Navarro’s shredding solos dominating the proceedings.
Two lengthy jams stood out in the set. “Sex is Violent (Ted, Just Admit It)” took the slow-burning route, as the band built up chorus after chorus while Farrell engaged in some bumping and grinding with the two female dancers onstage. Later on, “Three Days” pummeled the now nearly full house with solo after solo from Navarro, with the band again hitting a heady climax.
Philadelphia five piece Circa Survive opened the main stage show shortly before 6:30. Unfortunately, the sound mix left much to be desired, obscuring some of the more atmospheric moments of songs like the epic “Sharp Practice” and turning set opener “Oh, Hello” into a mushy, cacophonous mess. But the band persevered and delivered its two strongest performances to close the set, including the yearning “Brother Song.”
The mix improved considerably for Coheed and Cambria’s set, which kicked off at 7 with a ferocious performance of “Sentry the Defiant,” off the double album “The Afterman.” Led by shaggy-haired singer-guitarist Claudio Sanchez, the Nyack foursome covered the gamut from Rush-tinged prog rock to something bordering on anthemic pop with “Goodnight Fair Lady” and another new cut, “Number City.”