Prepare the handkerchiefs because this is going to be a review of one of the most exciting and tear-dropping albums we know. Which was released on July 30, 1996. "Alice In Chains" "MTV Unplugged" show which took place on April 10th of that year.
The album "Alice In Chains: MTV Unplugged" is a magical, special, exciting, and different album from most of the other albums we have reviewed.
It's hard to put the finger on a specific thing that makes this album so different, exciting, and special, but it's probably a combination of several factors. From the song's choice, to the full of emotional performance, scenery, and even the general atmosphere that prevailed during the show. All of these, are what made this show one of the most notable events in the history of modern rock.
This show comes after almost three years in which "Alice In Chains" has disappeared from the spotlight, and has not performed at all.
In 1994 Layne Staley's condition began to deteriorate as a result of depression and increased drug use, he was unable to function in recordings, performances, and even outside of them. Layne's condition was so bad that after the release of the album "Alice In Chains" in 1995, the band did not even go on tour to promote it. This of course did not prevent this mighty album from reaching number one on Billboard, but it certainly testifies to the condition of Layne and the band at the time.
And it did not end there, as the situation became more and more difficult both for the band and for Layne. He bought an apartment in Seattle, solitude, cutting ties with the band, friends, and family. The band members later testified that they always tried to keep in touch with him, but this rarely came to action.
Many times MTV executives begged "AIC" to perform the acoustic performance, which became a kind of tan audition for authenticity and musical talent. When bands like "Pearl Jam", "Nirvana" and "Stone Temple Pilots" have already passed the test, with great success, it was expected that "AIC" do the same.
The band finally succumbed to pressure and went up to perform the "test" on April 10, 1996, on the stage of the Brooklyn Academy of Music in Brooklyn, New York.
Like any other "student", Alice took the test. Only this time it was reinforced by another guitarist - "Scott Olson", guitarist, bassist, and producer, who previously played with the band "Heart". But it was not at all simple to go up for an acoustic performance, so exposed, with no effects, amplifiers, and distortions that might cover up mistakes, nonsense, and even fakes, certainly not in the band's condition and certainly not in Staley's poor mental and physical condition. Add to the fact that this is the band's first performance in three years, and another not-so-simple fact - Jerry Cantrell took the stage sick due to food poisonings caused by a sausage he ate before the show, and you have a shaky "card tower" that any light breeze can collapse completely.
Anyone who watched the show saw at first glance that something bad was happening. First public appearance in three years and the guy looks skinny, white, and pale, only a shadow of himself. He took the stage with pink hair, and dark sunglasses, and wrapped in a jacket underneath a woolen knit. Even when he put out one or two sentences between the songs, it could be seen that it required a supreme effort from him, but the songs themselves he performed exemplary as if he spared unnecessary energy between the songs and invested the rest of his energy in the performance itself. He gave it all, groaning, shouting, and screaming his wounded soul out through the lyrics, in a way that made this show so historic and equally tragic.
During that month, after the aforementioned performance, the band made 4 consecutive appearances as an opening show for the band "Kiss". That night Layne took an overdose of drugs and was rushed to the hospital. This was the last time the band performed with Layne.
Although there are no special performances, other versions, or hysterical covers on this album. Although the songs are quite close to the original performance, there is something very exciting and special about these performances that plays into our guts and makes this album so exemplary. On one hand, it takes the acoustic performance of the band and amplifies them even more, and on the other hand, it peels off its electrical performance and undresses them in such a touching and soft way. The harmony in the singing between Layne and Jerry also gets a very strong emphasis here, especially when all the instruments in the background are acoustic.
And if we were talking about a test, then this album undoubtedly passed it with excellency. It highlights the tremendous abilities and amazing talent that the members of this band have, who even in such difficult conditions manage to shine and transcend themselves. Just like that whole which is much more than the sum of its parts. The vocal combination between Jerry and Layne comes in this performance to unimaginable intensities. Even though you know it's a performance and you hear the audience in the background, these two just present you with the song intimately and magically, and you feel like it's just you with them alone in the room.
When listening to the album, one feels that many elements that we did not notice in the original performance are reflected here, not only because of the use of acoustic instruments but because of many other things...
The album opens with "Nutshell" and the band just launched that atomic bomb right from the start with a performance that is capable of melting steel. No matter how many times you've heard this song in "Jar Of Flies", this performance will still make you weep like a little kid. Opening the show with this song, without any introduction or opening sentences, gives it a particularly dramatic and terrifying volume, with the lyrics of the song so clear and distinct, putting you in a straight line straight into Layne's wounded soul, and you suddenly become a bystander in all the difficult scenes he went through.
From there we continue to "Brother" and "No Excuses", from the acoustic EP's "SAP" and "Jar Of Flies". Jerry grabs the front of the stage here in his melancholy voice and diversifies the sound for us a bit. Layne complements it with background vocals, especially in the chants, and the harmony between them is so precise and perfect. From there, there is no way back and you find yourself gliding down the slopes of emotion that flood, wash, and cover you from all sides.
Immediately afterward we move on to four acoustic performances of electric songs. There is no doubt that this show was planned and designed down to the smallest detail, to let the audience experience drama and suspense, with energetic songs combined with more relaxed songs, to create one complete, one-time, and unforgettable experience.
The first in a row is the song "Sludge Factory" from their latest album with Layne. This song opens with a miss by Layne, who also stops the song with the word Fuck!!! After 42 seconds. In the DVD version, they kept this part, but in the album version, it was cut out. This mistake was so authentic, human, and moving, that in our humble opinion, it was a mistake to cut it out. Not only did it not detract from the enjoyment and line-up of the band, but she opened a small window for us that helps feel a little of the "electrifying" atmosphere that prevailed in that hoop and it illustrates the "vibes" between the audience and the band members.
In the next song "Down In A Hole", Layne's cry of pain can no longer be ignored. He is carried on with Jerry and Scott's acoustic guitars, wrapped in Jerry's background vocals, sometimes weak and sometimes loud, as if Layne is trying to explain something to us, wants us to understand how he feels, and cries out to us for help from the lyrics.
It is followed by "Angry Chair" and "Rooster" who together with the previous song complete an amazing sequence from the masterpiece album "Dirt". There is no doubt that the acoustic performance simply breaks the songs down into elements and rebuilds them, with much more emotion and depth. This series of songs demonstrates the greatness of the band and its ability to present to us "the same lady with a completely different overcoat", in a way that just tears you to shreds, piece by piece.
After the "Dirt" trilogy we get a touch from "SAP" with "Got Me Wrong", and you better take a deep breath before you listen to this song, because Layne's vocal cords in the chorus just tear our hearts out and penetrate us through every possible layer of defense.
Immediately afterward we return to the album "Alice In Chains" with "Heaven Beside You", and Jerry takes the reins here again with a vocal performance that does not fall short of his friend Layne, who this time completes it with background vocals.
Next came "Would?" which is perhaps, the song that is most identified with the band, which is also among the greatest songs in the Grunge genre, if not the greatest of them all. This song is so identified with the original performance that it was not clear how it would be received in its acoustic version, but nonetheless, this performance is tremendous and reveals to us once again the tremendous abilities of this amazing band.
After two more songs from the album, "Alice In Chains" - "Frogs" and "Over Now", the show comes to an end with a new song called "Killer Is Me". Bassist Mike Inez was replaced here with Scott who goes on to play bass and he takes on the lead guitar role. By the way, as mentioned above, Scott was among others the guitarist of the band "Heart", whose sister friends Wilson also came from Seattle, he was in good contact with friends from "Alice" and even hosted them at the pavilion.
Before concluding we will note that several other improvised tracks have entered the DVD and album versions.
First, playing the opening track from "Metallica's" "Enter Sandman". The piece like the caption on Mike Inez's bass guitar "Friends Don't Let Friends Get Friends Haircuts...", was aimed at "Metallica's" members who sat in the front row of the audience, for the first time with their short haircuts.
The second, Jerry's country section annoyed Layne a bit. At the same time, Jerry's country section did not fully enter and was cut a bit in the album version, and here too one has to regret the editing work that cut the section, as the full section conveys a sense of authenticity and also connects the listener to the experience the audience went through in that magical performance.
This album is without a doubt a rare moment of heavenly revelation which fortunately was immortalized and preserved forever... Official documentation of one of the last performances performed by one of Rock's great vocalists.