Well, if anything was going to ‘Brighten’ this year, it’s the release of the latest Jerry Cantrell solo album and the accompanying festival and venue tours with his band of stunningly selected musicians. Tonight was a stunning trip through Alice In Chains and Cantrell’s solo standouts.
Jerry Cantrell, Shepherd’s Bush Empire. 7 July 2022
Words: Sara Harding
Photography: Stuart Garneys
I super love Alice in Chains, yet I have always admired Cantrell’s solo outings too. Cantrell is not just a songwriter. He is an architect in creating the unique sound that dominated the early ’90s Seattle sound and is just as integral in his solo outings.
In fact, Boggy Depot inspired us rock fans to go to deepest, darkest Oklahoma to track down said depot (pronounced deeeeep – oh in them there parts of the US of A) where Jerry used to hang out as a kid and featured as the album’s iconic cover.
Tonight’s gig in London promised to deliver a setlist of classic AIC anthems, Cantrell’s standout solo songs, plus new material from his latest album Brighten.
As Jerry steps on the stage at Shey Bu Empire, as we lovingly call it, the audience is up on its feet, in full fan mode and screaming the familiar chants of ‘Jerry, Jerry, Jerry.’…
Cantrell salutes a very hot and packed Empire, bursting into action with Them Bones and the Empire is literally electric. With Dillinger Escape Plan’s Greg Puciato duelling on vocals with Cantrell’s incredible chops, this was a lesson in performing the incredible two-part vocal songs JC is so famous for composing. Puciato is a powerhouse vocalist and is instantly out in the crowd with some spectacular stage diving whilst remaining note-perfect.
Cantrell takes us all back to Degradation Trip by performing Psychotic Break, a must for all us lovers of Cantrell’s solo outings and then dives straight into AIC’s We Die Young.
Atone is next on the setlist and is our first foray into witnessing the new album live. Packed with Cantrell’s DNA, this tune has this incredible country-esque tinge which gives this song another deeper level.
Huge props to the band Cantrell is surrounded by with slide guitar, two keyboards, guitar and a solid backline. They classily perform Cut You In, My Song and Siren Song.
Then as Jerry’s dungaree-wearing mountain-style roadie brings on a Vocoder, we all realise it’s Man In The Box time. The atmosphere by now is up to 11, with crowd surfing and another daring stage dive from singer Puciato into a mass of pulsing music-loving fans. By now, I was sweating like a weight-watcher in a cake shop. This song never gets old, and I will never tire of hearing this masterpiece and singing along to JC’s parts.
Cantrell looks at the mayhem and merriment in this sold-out show and laughs with his signature dirty chuckle, and you can tell he is loving this. “Hey London, it’s been a while,” he says. “I think we should stay here all night.”
Then it’s time for one of his signature hair flips into Had To Know, another epic song from the latest album. Rewind back to Jar Of Flies album for Whale & Wasp and straight into Bleed The Freak.
Jerry’s guitar work is so up there. He performs flawlessly and gets sounds out of his guitars other axemen can only dream of.
Cantrell and co. continue to flip the script between Brighten and old-school Alice In Chains. As we hear the opening keys to Down In A Hole, which became the go-to song for many of us rock teens back in the day, Cantrell doesn’t even need to sing as we are all performing it with the band.
A truly magical moment of fans uniting their musical hero. Spine-tingling. We are treated to two more AIC tunes with Lesson Learned, and of course, no set would be complete without Would.
Jerry and his tight-as-tight band say thank you and leave – but the noise from Shepherd’s Bush Empire was insane as we all screamed for more at the top of our lungs.
And we were not disappointed as JC, and his sextet come back on sharpish for an epic five-song encore. Kicking off with Got Me Wrong and rapid zap forward to 2022 for Brighten.
As one of the most iconic drum beats kicks in, we know it’s time for No Excuses and then into the most personal song for Cantrell, Rooster. With the dirtiest, dirty guitar drone and lyrics of his father, it’s a constant on the AIC setlist.
Then to finish off the night, it’s JC’s very poignant cover of Elton John’s Goodbye, which also features on Brighten. And then, alas, it was time to say hasta la vista to Jerry Cantrell as he heads off for a few more solo gigs and then the massive Alice In Chains North American tour.
I’m sticking a plane ticket on my credit card for a foray over to the States. Solo Cantrell with this band is a real taster of what’s next for Cantrell and Alice in Chains, and I cannot wait.
As I left the gig, my ears ringing, sweat pouring off me, singing badly and with a huge smile, I thought back to Cantrell’s comment about spending a whole night with him? I would!!!! Would you?
Huge thanks to Paul Shuff and William Luff.