Monday, 17 March 2014

Alice In Chains Unplugged

It's interesting evaluating an artist's work after his or her passing. Especially one whose life and work was so heavily marked and affected by their own life choices.

With Alice In Chains, of course I'm talking about the late Layne Staley, whose heroin addiction was the prism through which his world view was seen, and as such that is the prism that, for better or worse, his lyrics and music was filtered through.

Ultimately, it was this addiction that claimed his life, but it also incapacitated him, and effectively ran the band off the road, right at the height of their career in the mid-1990s.

When I first heard the band's breakthrough single "Would?" in 1992 at the insistence of a schoolmate of mine, I hated it. As the band's legend grew, and their reputation as hard drug users, my interest in the band was killed off.

It was this unplugged show that changed my mind. Hearing it purely in audio format, the power of the music is what shone through. The songs are uniformly strong and almost always feature the bands trademark harmonies, which are almost always a perfect fifth, lacking a major or minor tonal centre.

The beauty of the "Unplugged" format was that you got to see and hear the artists without the layers of effects and distortion applied to their instruments. This didn't work too well for Nirvana (in my view) but in the case of Alice In Chains, it was a perfect demonstration of their strengths while removing the aspects of their sound that they would usually hide behind.

This album proved to me that here was a band with a strong back catalog with talented musicians who can blend their various talents in an impressive format.

The band obviously draw heavily from their two acoustic EPs "Jar of Flies" and "Sap", but they treat us to acoustic arrangements of songs from their heavy albums too. Of particular note is the acoustic treatment of "Down In A Hole" which sounds like it should have been acoustic all along.

Recorded in 1996, it turns out that this was one of the last public performances by Alice In Chains. It was the first for some time, and one of the last with Layne, who died in early 2002. As such, Layne looks like he spent the entire show in a typical kind of narcotic haze that makes you wonder how he managed to play this show at all. Still, it is great to have such a wonderful souvenir of the band's talents in their rawest form.

Apparently, tickets were extremely hard to come by to this show, and were offered up at something like US$300 a pop (unheard of at the time). The four members of Metallica had front row seats. Bassist Mike Inez wasted no time getting stuck into the Metallica lads and their (then) brand-new short haired look (it's a heinous crime to cut your hair if you're a metal band, apparently) by scrawling "Friends don't let friends get friends haircuts..." (sic) on his bass.

Anyway, here below is the full performance of Alice In Chains unplugged, complete with between-song improv stuff, and a stuff-up and retake of "Sludge Factory". There is a few choice words in this broadcast that would make it somewhat Not Safe For Work and small children, just so that you are warned.


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