Is it a real Jersey rock concert if you don’t see ambulances waiting outside with the Ubers? NJ culture aside, is there any other way to react to grunge royalty giving us just what we want? Assessing all the 90s-era attire and hand-stitched battle jackets, you’d think the Wellmont Theater crowd would have been more apt to hit it off during Jerry Cantrell and Thunderpussy. Instead, a range of dissimilar personalities prompted semi-hilarious disarray. Thunderpussy lovers were viciously shushing the bros who thought they were the first clever souls to spot the word “pussy” in their name. Critical Alice In Chains purists were clashing with the open-minded solo-Jerry supporters about setlist expectations. The quiet-moment commentators were torturous, the fistfights were likely related, and the football pileups in the battle for guitar picks stamped bruises onto unsuspecting skin. But a night like that sure beats those insipid arena shows where iPad-holders gripe about the cross-stadium view from cushy velvet seats. Aside from some only-mildly-surprised expressions from Cantrell when GA got extra unruly, it seemed like the music kept progressing in a different dimension. It surged on above the chaos as if destined to occur no matter what distractions happened. This was also true for the opening set, in which Seattle’s Thunderpussy smashed cynics and obliterated the pussycatcalls with mellifluous badassery in their first-ever Wellmont gig.
Having witnessed Thunderpussy headlining small venues like Saint Vitus, it was both awesome and weird to see them in the opener role. Awesome because, hell, they’re rolling with Jerry Cantrell: the number of new pussy fans was measurable by the sold-out S/M/L sizes at their merch table (manned by none other than guitarist Whitney Petty) – swarmed, after their set, by customers settling for XLs. And yet, it was weird to see Thunderpussy quelling initially-distracted newcomers; the ones too focused on one-upping their buddies’ crass jokes to catch the magic unfolding before them. But killer singer Molly Sides, McCready-backed guitarist Whitney Petty, groovy bassist Leah Julius, and precise drummer Lindsey Elias were unfazed and unrestrained. If anything, it seemed that Sides played up her seductive strutting even more, rocking with poise in a white-feathered flapper dress as she poured tough vocal warmth into her old-fashioned microphone. Shreddy Petty, who slayed her licks and solos, also achieved a unique sound by occasionally using a bow on her guitar strings. Before Thunderpussy’s eponymous closing song, Sides declared, “We want you to scream ‘pussy’ as loud as you can because now is the time to scream it out, loud and proud. Raise the pussy! Protect the pussy, baby!” and punctuated her request with a gymnastic high kick. Their rocking 7-song setlist not only put the class clowns in time-out, but had them whipping out their phones to capture footage. Later, Jerry Cantrell sounded really impressed when he said, “Please make some noise for Thunderpussy kicking ass out there…they’re pushing it hard, man,” and whipped up loud cheering.
Jerry Cantrell and his close-vibing band stunned with a 20-song setlist that was so sonically pleasing, the pugnacious NJ crowd could finally agree upon something. The idolized guitarist was looking sharp in his patch-covered motorcycle pants, black-rimmed glasses, and unmistakable rock god hat. If you’re a passionate Alice In Chains fan on the fence about seeing Cantrell solo, you’ve got to go for it, because the majority of his show was beautifully-executed AIC songs, including a headbangable “Them Bones,” a gnarly “Check My Brain,” “No Excuses,” “Lesson Learned,” “Man in the Box,” and “Would?” plus a sick “Whale & Wasp,” “Down in a Hole,” and “Rooster” in the encore. Interspersed with those classic-sounding cuts were some of the catchiest songs from Cantrell’s three solo records, mostly 2021’s Brighten. Once the show closed with “Goodbye,” the Elton John-blessed cover that appears on that record, a suspended moment of bliss ensued – one that lasted surprisingly long before it erupted into silly physicality again. Cantrell emptied Dixie cups full of guitar picks over the tightly-packed crowd like confetti, and in the span of one breath, the toughest limbs buckled and rugby match pileups broke out in GA. Shrieks of “Ouch!” and “People, they’re just picks! You can buy picks!” fell on greedy buried ears. The vibe was as fanatic as it gets, because Cantrell and his band had been firing on all cylinders.
Some fans seemed surprised that Cantrell was supported by another singer on his solo tour, but it was an important layer that made the AIC songs hit harder. The talented Greg Puciato (of The Dillinger Escape Plan) covered irreplaceable legend Layne Staley’s parts with the utmost respect and finesse. The rest of the deft ensemble included Lola Colette on the keys and vocals, George Adrian on bass and vocals, Gil Sharone on drums (Marilyn Manson, The Dillinger Escape Plan), Michael “Dickie Dollars” Rozon on pedal steel, and Tyler Bates on guitar (Cantrell’s co-producer who helped put the project together). The other voices resonating throughout the Wellmont added to the heavy sound too as fans joined in at the top of their lungs. While singing in his cool timbre and nimbly manipulating his strings, Cantrell was so attentive, even a casual wave could earn a grin from the grunge great. “I think this is the biggest crowd we’ve had so far,” Cantrell remarked over noisy applause. “You guys look fuckin’ huge.” Even when Cantrell just took a small step in front of his mic stand, the screaming got insane. When he made bigger moves, like switching to his Flying V guitar, dudes were shouting “Jayer…eeyee!” in such a funny macho manner that the syllables split.
“It feels good, man. Thank you so much,” said Cantrell, speaking for the first time before fourth rager “Siren Song” – during which his pick-throwing began. Even as the band dug into “Cut You In,” people were still crouching and fumbling with their phone flashlights in the scramble for unclaimed ephemera. Other gifts were bestowed upon us too – like when Cantrell personalized “Between” with a pointed eyebrow raise on the line, “Off in New York City / Good to see some friends.” Of course, the NYC-area audience flipped. Later, foreshadowing the encore, the eight large fireflies positioned around the stage started lighting up in exciting waves of flickering yellow. Like his approving mid-riff nods, Cantrell’s rare moments of banter throughout the night ranged in tone from humble – “Thanks so much for comin’ out to see a rock & roll show” – to mischievous – “You can get louder if you want to.” And damn did everyone obey that directive.
Article: Olivia Isenhart