ALICE IN CHAINS w/ DOOM UNIT & FLAT EARTH – Kaisaniemi, Helsinki, 16.06.2019 (English)

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The alternative rock icons Alice in Chains released their sixth full-length album, Rainier Fog, last August, and have toured all over the world since then. In the early summer this year it was finally Europe’s turn, and Finland also got its share with shows in Oulu and Helsinki. Musicalypse attended the latter of these gigs at Kaisaniemi on June 16, 2019, which was supported by the domestic groups Flat Earth and Doom Unit.

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Listen to the setlists from all three bands on Spotify:

Finland is known as a country with a penchant for the harder spectrum of music, but apart from Soundgarden (while they were still around), the bands from the Seattle grunge scene have been seen in Finland very rarely. Nirvana’s brief career included only one festival slot at Ruisrock in 1992, and while Pearl Jam never stopped touring or recording, Finnish fans are still waiting for a follow-up to their 1993 show in Helsinki, where they supported Neil Young. Alice in Chains, on the other hand, has performed at a few festivals over the years, but their show at Tavastia in 1993 remained their only headlining gig until now, and therefore bringing them over for not one, but two shows of their own was a very commendable act to say the least. On top of that, Rainier Fog was my favorite album of 2018, so naturally I was hyped for the Helsinki show.

 

The evening was opened by Doom Unit. The Tampere-based stoner/hard rock group won the Radio Rock Starba contest back in the day and consequently gained heavy airplay on the channel with the plodding “Killing Time,” but since then they’d flown under my radar and I honestly didn’t know the band still existed. This slip away from the public knowledge, as well as the fact that it was 18:00 with 3 hours to go until the headliner’s showtime, proved to be unfortunate for Doom Unit, as just a few rows’ worth of people showed up to the very front of the stage, while others stayed behind.

Doom Unit’s music surely doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but luckily most of the songs weren’t as monotonous as “Killing Time” – occasionally you could hear influences from blues, for example, and there were some cool guitar leads and grooves in a few tunes. Frontman Jape Ylinikka stated that the band was honored to be able to play before Alice in Chains, and you could indeed hear the masters’ impact on their apprentices, particularly in some of the vocal harmonies. Although the audience was more polite than excited, before “Chameleon” was played as the last song, Ylinikka asked people to shake their asses to the music, regardless of size, and I saw at least one guy really getting into it, so you could say that the request didn’t go to waste completely. While Doom Unit didn’t manage to convert me into a fan, they were better than expected and provided a decent enough start for the evening.

Doom Unit setlist:
1. Reckoning Day
2. Red Horizon
3. Underdog
4. Light Me Up
5. The Cradle and the Grave
6. Out of the Spiral
7. Cylinder
8. Killing Time
9. Chameleon

 

In 2016 I saw Amorphis opening for Black Sabbath at Kaisaniemi, and a year later bassist Niclas Etelävuori quit the band. Now I was able to see him on stage at the same place, but this time with his new band, Flat Earth, which also features ex-HIM members Linde on guitar and Gas on drums, as well as vocalist Anthony Pikkarainen. The quartet was my favorite newcomer in the Musicalypse awards last year, so needless to say, I was happy to finally be able to catch them live.

At this point the crowd was noticeably bigger already, and Gas and Linde got an audible cheer when they entered the stage, so clearly the familiar musicians had managed to pull in some people by the time they kicked things off with the folk-tinged riffage of “Subhuman.” As a fun little detail, the band seemed to have a dress code of sorts, as everyone except Gas was wearing shades. Since Flat Earth has only one album out, they naturally played nearly every song from their debut, only omitting “Given Time.” Leaving out one of the singles felt weird, but maybe they wanted to keep the ballads to a minimum. A while ago the band also released a live cover of “School” by Nirvana, and since they were opening for another grunge band, this was the perfect time and place to play the song. The tune fit into the set so seamlessly that had I not known it, I might’ve even guessed it was an original composition.

What struck me was that the sound was very good and balanced – for example, you could clearly hear Etelävuori’s slap bass on “Blame” even while Linde was soloing. For a band that hasn’t been around for ages, Flat Earth’s playing was tight and the members’ long history in various bands ensured that they felt comfortable on stage and not intimidated by the prospect of opening for a big-name group. Pikkarainen’s vocals on “None for One” were impressive – falsettos and all – while “Noble Swine” gave Linde the chance to conjure all kinds of buzzing sounds from his arsenal of effects, and Gas caught me off guard with his backing vocals, as I wasn’t aware that the man had such a good voice. The only real downsides of Flat Earth’s set were that “The Glow” didn’t translate all that well into a live situation, and while the rhythm guitars coming from the backing tracks throughout the set beefed up the sound, they also took away from the live feeling a little bit, and a live keyboardist would’ve also been welcome. At the end of “Kill My God” the band gradually raised the tempo, which brought the set to a rousing conclusion. I heard at least one person shouting “we want more” afterwards, and I have to say I would likewise certainly enjoy seeing these guys again.

Flat Earth setlist:
1. Subhuman
2. Limelight
3. Blame
4. None for One
5. Noble Swine
6. School (Nirvana cover)
7. Freedoom
8. Blunt
9. Cyanide
10. The Glow
11. Kill My God

 

Surprisingly, Alice in Chains started 10 minutes early, but by that point 99% of the audience must’ve been around already, so I doubt a lot of people missed the beginning. The grunge legends opened with “Bleed the Freak” from their Facelift debut (1990), which was an interesting choice with its slow intro but somehow it worked as an entrance, after which “Check My Brain” – the band’s most famous song from their modern era – brought the tempo up. However, right from the start it was clear that the sound was rather unbalanced and a step down from Flat Earth, as the bass frequencies were really loud, while the vocals were quite low in the mix. Things got a little better starting with the opening one-two punch of Dirt (1992) – “Them Bones” and “Dam That River” – but unfortunately the sound never fully improved. Perhaps finding the right space in the mix for two vocalists who are constantly harmonizing with each other becomes more challenging at an outdoor venue?

Due to the vocals getting slightly overpowered by the bass on the heavier material, the more somber and acoustic-based songs such as “Your Decision,” “Down in a Hole,” and particularly “Nutshell” – which featured an emotional guitar solo by Jerry Cantrell – had a chance to stand out positively. The biggest surprise of the night for me was “Red Giant,” as the song had been dropped from the setlist at recent shows, and so I had already resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t get to hear it. Therefore, imagine my joy when my favorite song of 2018 kicked off unexpectedly. While as a non-single cut from the latest album, the tune didn’t get a massive reaction from the crowd, it was one of my personal highlights and the appropriately red stage lights enhanced the music. “Stone,” on the other hand, turned out to be a good live tune that allowed drummer Sean Kinney to let loose, and in the middle of it the band stopped playing to rile up the crowd. However, another favorite of mine from AiC’s newer records, “Hollow,” didn’t quite capture the layers of its studio version and was played a little too fast, which made it lose its heaviness. Another underwhelming moment was “Got Me Wrong,” which in my opinion didn’t belong in the encore, and when Cantrell asked people how they were feeling, they cheered, not getting that it was a hint to sing along to the line, “I haven’t felt like this in so long.” Luckily “Would?” was up next, and this time the crowd actually participated in the singing. “Rooster” was a powerful closer, and the slightly slowed-down intro made the moment the distortion kicked in even more explosive than on the album.

While William DuVall will always be the “new guy” in Alice in Chains, he did a fine job filling Layne Staley’s shoes and has been in the band for so long that he’s more than earned his place by now. His vocal performances on the punchy “We Die Young” and “Rooster” were particularly impressive. He had a lot of energy on stage and it was funny to see him constantly throwing picks into the crowd. Speaking of the audience, on the internet I saw people criticizing the attendees for being apathetic, but I didn’t think the energy level was particularly bad for a Finnish gig considering the circumstances: a Sunday night, lots of middle-aged people, and a long wait for the headliner. The big hits – particularly “Man in the Box” – were very well-received, although I have to admit I was surprised at the lack of reaction “Angry Chair” received, given its classic status. In any case, the band seemed to be happy and at the very end, bassist Mike Inez took to the microphone to thank Finland for supporting heavy music throughout the years.

 

Reportedly 6000 ticket buyers had found their way to the show, which sounds slightly small for Kaisaniemi, but the area had been set up so that there were food and merchandise booths in the middle of the field and not just on the sides, so the extra space was used wisely. One of the advantages of the crowd size was that the organization remained good and the queues to toilets and the bar area didn’t get out of hand. Perhaps the show might’ve been at least a little better-attended if it had been held on a Friday or Saturday, and the Oulu show the day before must’ve also attracted a lot of fans living higher up north, who now didn’t need to travel all the way to Helsinki.

To sum it up, while Alice in Chains was on point musically and the setlist with its mix of all the biggest classics and a healthy dose of newer material was satisfying for a first-timer, the inadequate sound detracted from my enjoyment, so I hope I can catch them again at an indoors venue, such as the Ice Hall, someday soon.

Alice in Chains setlist:
1. Bleed the Freak
2. Check My Brain
3. Again
4. Never Fade
5. Them Bones
6. Dam That River
7. Hollow
8. Your Decision
9. Rainier Fog
10. Down in a Hole
11. No Excuses
12. Stone
13. Red Giant
14. We Die Young
15. Nutshell
16. Angry Chair
17. Man in the Box

Encore:
18. The One You Know
19. Got Me Wrong
20. Would?
21. Rooster

Photos: Marco Manzi

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