23 July 2001
We waited until half an hour before the concert to buy our tickets. I wanted to get them at the Norva, since they don't add the service charge there, but it was too far out of the way to go down there any other time. So, with the concert scheduled to start at 8, we arrived at the Norva at about 7:30. There was a decent line outside, and we wondered why the doors weren't open yet. Not thinking too much about it, we went to the Backstage Cafe and bought tickets. There, we saw Alice Cooper's guitar, which was shaped like a machine gun.
We went back outside and stood at the end of the line. The guy from Mars that was trying to sell me a five-string bass a few days earlier was in line behind us. Then I looked again and realized that there were several people from Mars. Maybe it was a business outing. The doors didn't open for another half-hour. We figured the show would start shortly after we got in.
We got in, figuring we wouldn't get a decent place to stand...but we were wrong. We got our usual place, on the right side of the stage, on the rail. It's nice, cos it's too far from the center for anyone to want, but the guitarist or bassist stands right in front of you. It was our spot at the Deftones (Chi Cheng stood there), Nickelback (Mike Kroeger), and A Perfect Circle (Billy Howerdel stood there). Soundgarden's A-Sides was playing. It ended up getting played all the way through. Ultimately, the concert that was supposed to start at 8, ended up starting at nine, when Swarm came out.
Everyone but the singer took the stage and started playing. I thought to myself that it would be kind of neat if there was no singer, and their music was just instrumental. Then, I thought that I didn't really mind the music. The guitar wasn't bad at all. The bass was decent...and the drums were actually quite good. Then the singer came out, wearing leather pants, a fishnet-style shirt, a pimp jacket, and a fedora. I found it humorous. But then when he started singing, I didn't find it especially humorous anymore. Another band with just screaming (I might even say 'screeching') vocals to ruin it.
I don't really remember all that much that stood out about Swarm. They played some decently long songs (6-7 minutes), or the songs might have just run together. All of them had long dreadlocks. Ken said that maybe that was why the show started an hour late. The bassist was in the spot in front of us for most of the set. There were these two boxes against the stage, directly in front of us. The stage was maybe four feet away from me, but the boxes were only maybe two. Everyone made their trips there during the night. The bassist hung out there a lot. He wasn't extremely interesting. Every so often the guitarist would come over. He was more fun to watch. I think every song they played had at least one real guitar solo. It restored my faith a little; I had thought that maybe guitar solos were a thing of the past. They weren't extremely intricate, but they were nice. Once or twice, the singer came over to the boxes. Both times, I got spit on me. And the drummer had the greatest look on his face. He was completely in the zone...and his face reflected that. It looked like one of those "moment in time" pseudo-commercials they play on MTV2.
Swarm left. There was a break while equipment was changed. The guitarist and the singer came down and walked through the space between the rail and the stage, shaking hands with people and stuff. After the show, the singer was sitting on the merch table. Even though I didn't care too much for their music, I think it's cool that they were getting involved with the audience.
While MIRV was getting set up, Ken and I were talking about the glittery gold Strat sitting at the other side of the stage. We mentioned how ugly it was. The guitar is a pretty good representation of the band though, as it turned out. They turned out to be a serious but not serious group.
We really had the best view possible, probably. The guitarist was in front of us, and the singer at center stage. The bassist, at the other end of the stage, barely moved...so I was glad that we didn't get ripped off twice. So anyway...the guitarist was wearing a Swarm shirt and a cowboy hat. He had a long beard. The singer had a clean-shaven head and wore big sunglasses, despite the fact that it was 10 PM and indoors. He also wore a lab coat and played the gold guitar. About half the time when he was singing or talking, he was using a pedal that made his voice sound like a robot. As they took the stage, he was talking in the robot voice. I thought he was talking about a 'proctology doctor.' It's possible, but more likely that he was saying technology doctor, since that's one of their songs (I checked their site after the concert).
They started playing some song. It sounded like the same kind of music as the Pulp Fiction theme, sort of. That's as close a comparison as I can make. Every time the guitar stopped for a second, the guitarist would start doing strange dances. I'd say they were hickish dances. They were cool, though. I thought it was funny and it looked like they were having fun. Afterwards, the guitarist talked about how they sounded better when you were more drunk, and would continue to promote "drinking heavily" throughout their set. While I usually find it dumb when bands do that, I thought it was cool and strangely fitting this time. I guess it's cos when I hear other bands say "smoke pot," what they really mean is, "we smoke pot and it makes us cool cos it's illegal." The guitarist looked like a country guy anyway, and they're stereotyped to have fun and drink beer.
During maybe the second song, I was struck with the random thought that these guys were sort of like Primus. This fact wouldn't even be noteworthy, except that at the end of the song, the guitarist asked if anyone had gone to see his friend Les Claypool the previous night. Oh yea. I'm just that good.
The guitarist identified the singer as Mirv, the bassist as Craig, the drummer as Jeff, and himself as Brian. I just thought I'd establish that now so I can refer to Mirv and Brian as their names, cos writing "the guitarist" and "the singer" over and over gets laborious. And I'd also like to establish right now that both Mirv and Brian were really good guitarists. It surprised me how good they were. They were both finger tapping extremely quickly, and at first I didn't think it was really them.
Besides the fact that they were having good, infectious fun, what I liked about MIRV was that they had their own style. It wasn't like a new style really though, it was a hybrid of lots and lots of styles. They played a couple of country songs (one called ATF, the only title I picked up all night besides Monkey Boy), Brian broke into opera every once in awhile, and just regular rock. The song that blew me away, though, was a song introduced by Mirv: "I wrote this song while I was very heavily medicated...and I don't really know what kind of style you'd call it. It might be its own style." And they launched into this completely instrumental Final Fantasy-ish music. Like he said, I don't know if it had a style, so I don't know how to describe it. Except that it really did sound like something you'd hear in FF7 or FF8. At times it broke into lounge-type music with the cymbal-dominated beats. I think this is probably one of the only songs played by an opening band (that I didn't know already) that I could completely remember, even a week later. It's going to make me buy their CD. I already know I'm going to do it when I get the money.
Anyway, a couple of other interesting things happened. Mirv, whom I mentioned had a completely shaved head, was sticking guitar picks to his head all night. I just thought that was funny, cos it took me a minute to realize what that was stuck to his forehead. But the coolest thing he did all night was when he was talking about the "holy saw." This did indeed happen to be a normal saw, but it was fitted with a metal zone pedal (a pedal that makes your guitar get the heavy distorted song characteristic of metal bands) and hooked up to an amp. He proceeded to play the saw through the pedal, which I thought was really cool and innovative. The bassist, in what proved to be his only real action all night, handed Mirv a wooden Strat, which he sawed into with the Holy Saw. I think they played ATF after that song, but it might have been their last. I don't really remember.
So anyway, all that happened even before Jerry Cantrell came on.
Cantrell did come on, to lots and lots of applause. My first surprise was all the guitarists. I figured since Cantrell was a guitarist himself, he might have one other one, if any at all. Nope. Two more. One was a black guy, at the other end of the stage. Cantrell stood center. At the right, in front of us again, was Brian from MIRV. I was only slightly surprised to see him there; both he and Mirv were really good guitarists.
I figured I'd just put up the songs I recognized right now. I don't have Cantrell's solo CD, so I don't know any of the songs played from it. All I know are the Alice in Chains songs, and these are the ones they played: No Excuses, Man in the Box, Brother, Got me Wrong, Them Bones, Would?, and Angry Chair.
I'm not really surprised that Man in the Box got the biggest crowd response. What did surprise me, though, was just how...energizing, I guess...the song was. Everyone was moving, even up on stage where the guitarists had stayed on the ground all night. They were jumping up and down, and so was the crowd. Hearing the song later made me think back to the concert. I like that. I hope it sticks.
At a couple of points during the concert, I was thinking about how everyone on the stage resembled someone more famous. The only one I couldn't match up was Brian. The other guitarist looked a bit like Lenny Kravitz from where I was standing (which was kind of a long way so I might be wrong). The bassist reminded me a bit of the guy from Korn. I think it was only the way he was holding the bass, though. The drummer looked a little like Chris Cornell or maybe Dave Navarro, only with longer hair. I thought the bassist was cool cos he would Godzilla-stomp around the stage while playing. Sometimes Brian would stomp back at him and they would almost run into each other. The other cool thing I can remember is that Brian broke out this cool guitar. Before he had been playing an orange Telecaster with a picture of some girls on the pick guard. But later he got a guitar that was just a red box. There was no shape to the body at all, just a red box. I thought it was cool.
Nothing else that was really momentous happened while Cantrell was on. I'm certainly not saying that it wasn't interesting...it was great. It's just that he wasn't really a showman in the same sense that MIRV was. I don't even remember what song he closed with...I'm thinking it might have been Them Bones. I felt like I'd definitely gotten my money's worth at the end of the night...best concert in a long, long time.