Alice in Chains not bound by past

Lineup changes, passage of time cultivate living in the moment

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If you go

What: Alice in Chains, headlining the Rockstar Uproar Festival.

When: 2 p.m. gates open, 9:45 p.m. Alice in Chains performs, Sept. 8.

Where: Sleep Country Amphitheater, 17200 N.E. Delfel Road.

Cost: $26.95-$90.90 through Ticketmaster, 800-745-3000 or ticketmaster.com

Information: 360-816-7000 or Sleep Country Amphitheater

Alice In Chains bassist Mike Inez admits that the absence of Layne Staley, the group's original singer who died from a drug overdose in 2002, still hung over the group when it reunited with new singer William DuVall to make the 2009 comeback album, "Black Gives Way To Blues."

Two years of touring with DuVall, though, helped make the recently released album, "The Devil Put The Dinosaurs Here," a different experience.

"I think it felt more like a solid unit," Inez said in an early August phone interview. "The 'Black Gives Way To Blue' album was like, 'Wait, where's Layne? Somebody call Layne' or something like that. Then this one was more, we had done so many, probably hundreds of gigs at that point together, every shape and size, from clubs to stadiums and everything in between. So I think this one there was a lot less anxiety than 'Black Gives Way To Blue' and less of a question mark."

If the returning band members — Inez, guitarist Jerry Cantrell and drummer Sean Kinney — feel more comfortable being Alice In Chains again, it doesn't necessarily mean they have found closure by joining forces with DuVall and don't miss their late singer Staley.

"I don't think there's closure, per se. That seems to me like the wrong word," Inez said. "You obviously move on and the world keeps spinning and the gigs keep coming and stuff like that, but sometimes, especially like on the tour bus late at night when there are no sounds going on and it's really silent, I start thinking about Layne and stuff like that, still to this day. And I don't ever want to stop thinking about Layne."

The second chapter in the Alice In Chains story began in 2005 when Kinney recruited Cantrell and Inez to play at a benefit concert in Seattle (the band's home base) to aid victims of the Indonesian Tsunami. Inez was playing bass in Heart at the time, while Cantrell was coming off of a pair of solo albums, "Boggy Depot" in 1998 and "Degradation Trip," in 2002.

But the former bandmates had remained close in the years that had followed both the 1996 breakup of Alice In Chains after three popular full-length studio albums — "Facelift" (1990), "Dirt" (1992) and "Alice In Chains" (1995) — along with three EPs "We Die Young" (1990), "SAP" (1992) and "Jar Of Flies" (1994), and the death of Staley.

"Even during the off time, we would talk to each other weekly, if not daily," Inez said.

So perhaps it was only a matter of time before Inez, Cantrell and Kinney reunited, and doing something spontaneous and positive such as the tsunami benefit was a good setting for the reunion.

With several singers — including Tool's Maynard James Keenan, Ann Wilson of Heart and Pat Lachtman of Damage Plan — filling the role of Staley on various songs, the concert went well and, prompted Inez, Cantrell and Kinney to take the next step.

They recruited DuVall, who had sung in Cantrell's band on the "Degradation Trip" tour, to see how he would fit in filling Staley's role as frontman. "We did a thing for, I think VH-1 Rock Honors or something in Atlantic City with Heart," Inez said. "That was William's first gig with us and it seemed to click."

A full club tour in 2006 and 2007 came next, and then the new Alice In Chains was ready to think about a return to the studio.

So far, it's been an impressive return for the band. "Black Gives Way To Blue" was a very solid effort, and "The Devil Put The Dinosaurs Here" suggests that today's Alice In Chains will at least maintain the musical standard of the original model.

The group's signature sound — driven by the striking, darkly hued riffs — returns intact, which makes sense, because Cantrell was the main architect of the group's music, while Staley was the lyricist. DuVall, and Cantrell, meanwhile, have been able to create the kind of layered dual vocals that Staley and Cantrell sang during the group's first era.

The songwriting on "The Devil Put The Dinosaurs Here" is strong, as the band works from slow grinding rockers like "Hollow" and "Hung On A Hook" to heavy (but slightly more uptempo) tracks like "Stone" and "Phantom Limb" to anthemic rockers like "Low Ceiling" and "Pretty Done," and tunes that mix electric and acoustic guitars, such as "Scalpel" and "Voices."

And while Inez doesn't try to act like the past never happened, he said the band, which is currently co-headlining the Uproar Festival tour with Jane's Addiction, is clearly trying to live in the moment.

"We don't focus on like Lollapalooza tour 1993. We're busy about Uproar 2013," Inez said. "It keeps us focused. And if we weren't moving the ball forward, I don't think we would do this.

"After all of these years, we still really, really enjoy each other's company and we really like making a racket together," he said. "We keep it very simple, very humble about the whole thing. It's a blessed life we live, and we don't take it for granted for one second."