In 1996 Alice in Chains broke a three year silence and returned to the stage to perform for MTVs Unplugged show in front of a small audience that included Metallica in their numbers. It was to be one of their final performances featuring the late Layne Staley and it ranks as one of the finest and most poignant MTV performances alongside Nirvana’s seminal Unplugged set.
Unlike Nirvana, an acoustic Alice in Chains set was never that unlikely, not least because they had already released two semi-acoustic EPs (Sap and Jar of flies) to a largely appreciative rock community. Their use of close vocal harmony, even in their heaviest songs, also opened up new possibilities for their songs and the band chose an eclectic mix for this performance. Prior to the show, the music community had been rife with rumours about Layne’s condition – his drug habit had been well known for years – and it was said that he was missing fingers having injected directly into his hands. In actual fact Layne was in fine from, although he appears pale and detached at times, and he responds with humour and vigour throughout the 90 minute performance. His voice, one of the great voices of the 90s, remains untouched and he has ample chance to show his strengths over songs such as the wistful ‘Nutshell’ (which opens proceedings) ‘Brother’ (complete with exquisite harmony) ‘’Angry chair’ and ‘No excuses’. Other song choices are more surprising, such as the stripped down ‘Sludge factory’ (complete here with fluffed first attempt) ‘Would’ and even a new song ‘Killer is me’ which was never recorded elsewhere.
The DVD itself contains a pristine transfer from MTVs tapes, along with crystal clear audio although this is only a minor improvement upon the video already available at time of release. Sadly, SMV (not noted for their generosity when it comes to extras) include nothing more than a timeline and discography, with no interviews or rehearsal footage to round out the package. This is a great shame because there is precious little Alice in Chains visual media available (this DVD was followed by a collection of promo videos a year later) and it would have been nice to have seen more effort put into a package from one of the most original bands of the 90s). However, as this DVD is invariably available at a low price, SMV’s meanness can be forgiven somewhat and it remains an intriguing last look at a classic band. Recommended, and an essential reminder of Layne’s hauting voice.