At 9.45pm they came on magnificently again. The white sheet hiding the stage was suddenly animated by three giant silhouettes, two of which were headbanging like billy-o to the Titanic rock riff of 'Dam That River'. After a tantalising 30 seconds the cloth fell, the capacity crowd punched the air and we were off. The Donington spirit was alive and well: badly dressed people slurping pints and screaming along, wiggling their fingers over air guitars and enjoying themselves without inhibition.
Frontman Layne Staley, with his shades, lumpy face and bold grip on the microphone stand is not only a dead ringer for Bono, he matches him for sheer projection too - both personality-wise and vocal. 'Scary's on the wall / Scary's on his way,' he yodelled in 'We Die Young', before completing the opening trilogy of despair with an excellent 'Them Bones'.
The American author Donna Gaines, in Teenage Wasteland: Suburbia's Dead End Kids, chronicled the lives of teenage 'burn-outs' who listen to metal bands such as Led Zeppelin, Metallica and Slayer and embrace morbidity in the face of a future without prospects. Alice in Chains have taken over as the definitive 'burn out' band.
Their mission, as everyone with controversial material claims these days, is to stir up difficult feelings for analysis. They despatched their catchiest track 'Would?' early in the set and got down to the serious business of Dirt. 'Junkhead' was a pure celebration of heroin-user attitude while for 'God Smack' (message: smack can dominate you), Staley adopted a foetal position and switched to Johnny Rotten rant-mode. Drummer Sean Kinney, who spent a lot of the time standing so as to reach all his cymbals, and lead guitarist Jerry Cantrell were perfect throughout, meticulously controlling the tempo which, for the most part, lurched restlessly between mid and slow. Their music pulls two ways: it's cumulatively depressing, but turned up very loud this stripped-down rock of hard drumming, mean guitars and rough harmonies becomes a riot. Alice in Chains like dramatic monologues - 'Rooster' is Rambo gibberish, 'Love, Hate, Love' shows the teenager in love-hate-love. 'I' is the subject of every sentence, so given the narrow focus it was no surprise that they wound up with their blunt paradox of pathology 'Hate To Feel'.
The encore was 'Man In The Box' - a disgusting ditty about being buried alive. Or rather, this being a band where affects are more important than FX, about feeling buried alive. As the satisfied fans streamed out into the night air, no one could deny that in their own perverse way Alice In Chains had got the feelgood factor just right.