Review Summary: "We're gonna do a song off our... our album Dirt. This song is called Dirt." - Layne Staley, "Dirt (Drunk And Disordely Version)".
It's amazing to notice that, in spite of all being associated to the same genre, each band of the "Big 4" of grunge is relatively unique. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains and Soundgarden all have a distinct sound, and consequently appeal to different types of fans. Focusing now on Alice In Chains, they've always been considered, and rightfully so, one of the more heavy, gloomy and depressing bands of the great Seattle scene. Holding more closely to the metal side of the grunge spectrum, Alice seemed to have such a versatility that allowed the band to offer almost everyone a bit to enjoy. Relying on Layne Staley's distinctive and amazing vocals (perhaps one of the most iconic voices in rock of the last 25 years), Jerry Cantrell's sludgy and iconic guitar sound, the memorable and bone chilling vocal harmonies performed by both and a steady if unspectacular rhythm section, it also helped to have two massive creative forces in Jerry and Layne themselves, responsible for basically all of Alice's amazing songwriting skills.
It was never in doubt to any fan of Alice In Chains that they could be just as unique and effective on an acoustic set as they were playing electric. The amount of emotion they could convey on an acoustic performance, a much more intimate scenario to the tender sensibility of Layne Staley's urgent but heart-warming vocals, was impressive, as evidenced by releases such as the bone chilling, depressingly beautiful Jar Of Flies
or its cousin Sap
, just as visceral and in-depth cold but a bit more laidback at times. On April 10, 1996, Alice In Chains performed its first concert in almost 3 years for MTV. A visibly sick Layne Staley, much more skinny and pale, unintentionally garnered attention due to his deteriorating health. If one didn't already know, he certainly wouldn't have guessed that Alice hadn't performed in nearly 3 years, as the performance was one of the most memorable of the MTV series, perhaps only rivaled by Nirvana's. A deeply saddening and contemplative look at the sensibility of Alice In Chains, inevitably centered around Layne's amazing and heartbreaking performance, resulting in the classic release MTV Unplugged
Unfortunately, the concert was one of the last to feature Layne on lead vocals. His last performance as a frontman of Alice In Chains happened on July 3, 1996. After that, he entered a state of isolation, rarely leaving his house in Seattle and spending a vast majority of his last days alone. Before his tragic death in 2002, Alice In Chains lived a period of uncertainty regarding the future. A box set and several compilations were released during said time to keep fans busy. After proving, 4 years before, that Alice could pull off a truly memorable acoustic live performance, it was now time to listen to an electric one in Live
. Despite being an attempt to stay relevant amidst an internal turmoil, Live
manages to succeed at encapsulating in one hour what an Alice In Chains concert was all about. Displaying an amazing stage presence, a ferocious power and a superb energy felt nearly from start to finish, it documents (almost) perfectly the band's best talents. For fans who weren't lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the classic Alice lineup on stage, Live
may just about be as great as it gets.
Let's get the bad stuff out of the way first. If any complaint should be made about the album, it'd be the number of songs. Sure, there's 14 tracks here, but fans certainly wouldn't mind getting to hear versions of classics such as We Die Young
or Sea Of Sorrow
from the debut record, or even Heaven Beside You
or Over Now
from the nearly claustrophobic, excellent self titled release. However, besides the intruser God Am
, no song that did make the cut ever feels out of place. The production is crystal clear, and it's done a fine job. The sludgy, metal grunge of Alice In Chains is transposed onto the release as well and elegantly as it could be. The opener Bleed The Freak
proves to be an absolute fan favorite, as the hauntingly melodic guitar intro garners an immediate response from a passionate crowd, erupting in a memorable chorus. The big hits will inevitably get the biggest encouragement from the fans, and that's clear here, as numbers such as the Alice staples Man In The Box
, Angry Chair
, to name a few, cause euphoric reactions from everyone in the seats, not to mention they're beautifully performed.
Inevitably, Layne and Jerry are the main points of focus on the live record, as they are on any Alice In Chains release. Cantrell's unique and distinctive guitar tone is truly a driving force for the band, and it shows here, as he provides the necessary power to tunes such as the heavy, fan favorite Junkhead
and the ominous Dirt
. His versatility around the axe is just as welcomed, and it's evidenced in Rooster
, for example. However, it's Staley who stands out the most. His inimitable voice is a constant presence and truly a determinant factor to the band's sound. In the paranoid Love, Hate, Love
, which sounds even better than the already amazing version on the Alice's debut album Facelift
, Layne takes center stage and pulls off a memorable performance, earning an almost unanimous and loving response from every fan present. Unsurprisingly, the classic album Dirt
is the most represented album here (6 songs), and in such tracks, namely the closing song on here Dam That River
, Layne sounds fresh as ever, even if, by the time, his health was starting to get the better of him.
isn't a perfect record. As previously mentioned, an absence of tracks from the stirring self titled album (only 2 songs are featured here, God Am
) is a bit unfortunate. Some fan favorites such as the hauntingly beautiful Shame In You
, the hard hitting classics We Die Young
or the epic Rain When I Die
almost beg for inclusion. In comparison, however, those are minor flaws considering you can still have an excellent one-hour performance of a seminal rock band in fine form. Almost all songs sound amazing, in what serves as a great sonic documentary of Alice In Chains' live performances. And you have some added bonuses as well, as fans have an opportunity to hear a "lost" song Queen Of The Rodeo
, very rocking but most of all incredibly funny and evocative of the band's sense of humor, and A Little Bitter
, which appeared on the box set Music Bank
but sounds so much better on the live version. Truly an essential pickup for fans of the band and the genre, Live
is the last Alice In Chains release to feature the late Layne Staley.
An amazing vocalist and truly a gentle soul.
Family, friends and fans sorely miss him. May he rest in peace.