Mad Alice, a Minnesotan Alice in Chains & Mad Season tribute band, played in Detroit Lakes, MN at the Lakeside Tavern on July 5th, 2019. They were among a three tribute band lineup which also included Lithium (Nirvana tribute band) and Def Leggend (Def Leppard tribute band)
I had heard quite a bit about Mad Alice from word of mouth. Word of mouth often proves important regarding local or regional band-specific tribute bands. Such a recommendation lead me to see Minneapolis based Tool tribute band, 10,000 Days in 2011 who was spectacular. At the time, they were lead by now Minneapolis solo artist Marcus Lere on vocals. Mad Alice vocalist, James Flagg, stepped in to also sing for 10,000 Days.
Alice in Chains, given my age and background, was huge for me. I remember hearing "Man In The Box", from their iconic debut release Facelift (1990). However, it was "Would?" that really pulled my ear as if grabbed by pliers when it was featured in the movie Singles (along with many like-minded artists) in 1992. It was like nothing I'd ever heard before. It was rock, not heavy enough for metal, but very dark. It was most definitely Layne Staley's vocals that made the most initial impact. His chorus vocal in this song is so sharp, gritty, and distorted yet somehow desperate and vulnerable. I ran out to buy the Alice In Chains album it was off of, Dirt, and the rest is history. To this day, "Would?" is by far my favorite. After this song forced my attention, of course, I went back and got addicted to Facelift and their Sap EP. Subsequent albums were immediately among my favorites as well, especially Jar of Flies, which included "Nutshell" that I played on acoustic guitar obsessively.
Not one of the people who only took after the "hits", I thoroughly soaked Alice In Chains in. This included their obscure and underrated songs like "Rain When I Die", "Bleed The Freak", "Rotten Apple", "Brother", "Frogs", "Head Creeps", and many others. I craved the Layne's gritty vocal style that often included powerful vulnerability and desperation. "Frogs" dark natured lurking that included the repeated line in the chorus, "Why's it have to be this way?", is so desperate and gutsy. Layne's gritty voice complimented Jerry Cantrell's clean, smooth voice very nicely. They're a band who understand how important textures are.
Though wordy, this was all a segway into an understandable cautiousness of seeing Mad Alice play. Layne had become souch a driving inspiration for my own original music, original poetry, and even just how I approached my own dark thoughts. His death in 2002 was one that weighed on my heart and mind for quite a long time.
They opened with "Them Bones" which, for anyone wondering 'yeah, how many people can pull off Layne though?', was perfect as it characterizes Layne Staley's trademark over-enunciation and snarl. James Flagg quickly put any worries at ease and not only held onto Staley's difficult vocal range, he carries the textures, vocal distoration, and snarly style. John Hollingsworth seemed to be doing a good share of the main Jerry Cantrell vocals. Again, the balance and textures is important for AIC and Mad Season (tribute or otherwise). Flagg's and Hollingsworth's vocals very successfully accomplished this. Flagg's vocals on "We Die Young" were probably nearly flawless, which is no easy task to do as it's one of Staley's most difficult songs in my opinion (along with "Would?").
When Mad Alice began "Nutshell", it felt like a nice balanced vibe between the recorded version and the live version for AIC's MTV Unplugged album. It was enjoyable to see Flagg zone out a little and really listen as Kyle Kutz was playing the beautiful acoustic introduction that lasts over three minutes. Stage presence is still important and watching him seeming to fully and seriously take it all in was important. Audiences, drunk or not, enjoy it a lot more when the musicians are fully feeling it and I'm sure it's much better for the musicians as well.
Before starting "Grind", Flagg commented on how many Alice in Chains fans seem to really not favor their self-titled release from 1995, which was also the last release with Layne Staley. He had stated that he didn't understand the strong disliking others had of it. It's a very dark, heavy album indeed. For other bands, I could possibly see that being unsettling and not as enjoyable to listen to. However, Alice in Chains has always been dark. Regardless, I nodded in agreement and enjoyed them playing "Grind" and "Again", both of which are from that album.
They then began to venture into the world of Mad Season. The side project included Layne Staley, Mike McCready of Pearl Jam (guitars), Barrett Martin of Screaming Trees (drums) and John Baker Saunders on bass. Mad Season seemed to expose even more of the drug abuse, vulnerability, and spiritual longing within Layne. McCready's very unique guitar style mixing rock, jam band style lead riffs, blues, and jazz guitar helped this mysterious musical journey along. I would have loved to have heard one more Mad Season song. One can't ever hear all the songs they want to but, as Mad Alice likely knows, Mad Season was a rare gem. The one album has so much variation, darkness and pain..more so than nearly any other side project I could think of. The tragedy surrounding them only reveals how the murky, addicting was genuinely authentic. In 1999, Saunders passed away from an apparent heroin overdose. Of course, in 2002, Staley passed away from a drug overdose as well.
Nevertheless, two very important Mad Season songs got the well deserved time: "River of Deceit" and "I Don't Know Anything". Their cover of "River of Deceit" was especially enjoyable. The post-chorus is sung and played very soft, which nearly pulls the listener into a trance if they let it. "Long Gone Day" is another wonderful song, though it may not be as easy to pull off considering the bongos, cello, marimba, and other instruments rock bands don't typically carry on stage. For as well as they did the two Mad Season songs, I pleasantly ponder how wonderful it would be to hear them pull off "Wake Up" and "All Alone", both of which are very dreamy.
Following the two Mad Season songs, Mad Alice went into what would be usual encore songs: "Rooster", "Man In The Box", and "Would?". Closing the show with "Would?", well, is the only way to do it. Again, the song is so big and desperate and balance between Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell (though Layne takes the loud chorus and closer). Add in the signature starting bassline (by Mike Starr, who also passsed away from drug overdose in 2011) and Sean Kinney and it's the Alice In Chains song every new fan should start with. Then, bring them in to the darker, more disturbing songs (including songs since AIC's reformation).
If you are from the Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, or Wisconsin area..Mad Alice are a very authentic and entertaining tribute band to see. Like many of the Minneapolis and St. Cloud tribute bands, they take it very seriously with particular regard to it sounding as authentic as possible.
James Flagg: Vocals
John Hollingsworth: Bass/Vocals
Kyle Kutz: Guitar/Vocals
Dominique Nash: Drums/Vocals
* Mad Season songs, all others Alice In Chains
Shortly after this review was posted, Mad Alice reached out regarding a show they have coming up in which they are playing Mad Season's Above album in its entirely. They also passed on a link to a video of them playing "Wake Up" in St. Cloud, MN in June of 2014. That video is posted below (no pun intended). The upcoming show in which Above will be played is:
October 19th, 2019
The Red Carpet Nightclub
St. Cloud, MN