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Alice In Chains: MTV Unplugged (1996)

DVD Cover (Sony Music)
Genres:
Concerts, Music, Music Show, Vocal Music
Director:
Joe Perota Joe Perota
Starring:
Jerry Cantrell Jerry Cantrell
Mike Inez Mike Inez
Sean Kinney Sean Kinney
Layne Staley Layne Staley
Alice in Chains Alice in Chains

9.1 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by Crispy
Added: September 20, 2007
On April 10, 1996, Seattle grunge band Alice in Chains performed their first live concert in almost three years. This show was part of MTV's Unplugged franchise and has gone on to become one of the more memorable concerts in the series.

Just for the sake of argument, I'll admit that I got into Alice in Chains relatively recently, so I missed this show when it was "culturally relevant." Plus, I never watched MTV's Unplugged at all. Hell, Alice in Chains has been done and gone almost half a decade when I started listening to them. Even so, they've quickly ranked up as one of my favorite bands and I was overjoyed when I got this DVD for my birthday. Anyway, let's get the technical stuff out of the way first. Alice in Chains are Layne Staley on vocals, Jerry Cantrell on guitar/vocals, Mike Inez on bass and Sean Kinney on drums. Plus, Scott Olsen joins the band on stage as a rhythm guitarist, adding some fill-in that the normally heavier songs lose when done acoustically. The show's thirteen song set is made up of:

-Nutshell
-Brother
-No Excuses
-Sludge Factory
-Down in a Hole
-Angry Chair
-Rooster
-Got Me Wrong
-Heaven Beside You
-Would?
-Frogs
-Over Now
-Killer is Me

The songs chosen were a good choice; most of them transcribe to acoustic very well. The softer songs like "Nutshell" and "Heaven Beside You" are obvious, but some of the harder material ("Angry Chair" or "Sludge Factory") came as a surprise. Hell, I'd place the performances of "Sludge Factory" and "Brother" found here above their studio counterparts. You see, the band was able to use some subtle tricks to give the songs a completely different feel. Oh sure, they're all the same songs, but they've been retooled slightly for their new acoustic arrangement; a move that was met with brilliant results. It gives the album an identity all its own. Of course, I would have liked a longer set. "God Am," "I Stay Away," and "Rotten Apple" would all have been great additions. However, I fully admit that's just me being greedy, and to be honest I don't think Layne could have taken the extra numbers. More on that later.

My only true gripe is the order of the set itself. More specifically, the last three songs. They put all the stronger, well-known songs in the beginning which leaves the end of the show feeling a bit weak. Oh sure, they're all good songs, but it takes a few listens to really appreciate them, and it just wasn't a great move to close with that combination in my opinion.

The show itself is great. Watching the group perform you would never imagine that they're just coming off a three year hiatus. It's obvious the band are having a blast doing what they're doing, as they keep joking amongst each other ("Aren't you done with that tuning shit, yet?") between songs. Plus, Jerry occasionally goes off on little hoedowns when the mood strikes him. This is even carried over in the closing credits, where the band gives it's appreciation to "general acquaintances, doctors and flight attendants" and tell their fans that "the group hug is on hold" in reference to Layne telling the crowd "I just wanna hug you all!.....but I'm not gonna." The stage itself is a bit contradictory to light-heartedness of the band. They're performing on a square stage surrounded on all four sides by the crowd who are bathed in dark blue or red lights. The band themselves are surrounded by no less than thirty candles and the stage itself is relatively dark. The acoustic instruments add to this effect somewhat, and it all gives the entire show a gothic dungeon feel to it, which goes along perfectly as their lyrics tend to be somewhat dark and depressing.

For the small handful of you who aren't aware, Layne would die almost six years to the day after this was filmed, finally beaten by the heroin addiction that he's battled with most of his life. It's almost a miracle he lived that long, as you can tell he's in a horrible state here. His eyelids are dark and closed most of the show, he doesn't look like he's aware of where he is half the time and he even fumbles the lyrics a few times. Which brings me to the infamous take of "Sludge Factory." The band kicks off the song, Layne starts singing the first verse, accidentally switches to the second and caps it off nicely with, "FUCK!" Now, as embarrassing as that had to be, the rest of the band was fully behind him. As soon as he did it, he looks over at Jerry who nods, gives him a few words of reassurance and handles the crowd. "Ok, do over. It's been awhile we get a few of those." Naturally, I'm sure they knew what Layne was going through anyway and all was forgiven.

Bottom line: Everything about this show is magical. Even Layne's incident has gone beyond just a fuck up to become a memorable part of the band's history. I recommend this to all fans of Alice in Chains, as well as those who think Nirvana is the end-all-be-all of the Seattle music scene in the early 90's. Nothing against Kurt and the boys, but they don't have anything on Layne's crew, and this DVD is proof of that. 9.9/10

R.I.P. Layne Staley
08/22/67 ~ 04/05/02
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Tristan #1: Tristan - added 09/20/2007, 04:39 AM
I hate AiC, but I love this album. They would have much better if all their music sounded like this. Heaven Beside You sounds amazing on acoustic.
Crispy #2: Crispy - added 09/20/2007, 08:53 AM
Look into the Sap EP. It was heavily acoustic itself.
bluemeanie #3: bluemeanie - added 09/20/2007, 10:46 AM
This is the band that really started the grunge movement, though Nirvana is credited for it. I loved Alice In Chains throughout the 1990's, and my favorite tunes on this particular DVD would have to be "No Excuses" and "Over Now". But, "Would?" holds a special place in my heart. 9/10.
Edd #4: Edd - added 09/21/2007, 04:44 PM
Over Now > oral sex.
Lucid Dreams #5: Lucid Dreams - added 05/02/2009, 11:56 AM
I love this band and everything they do. I wouldn't call them grunge though, I think they just got tagged with it because they come from Seattle. 10/10
Crispy #6: Crispy - added 05/02/2009, 01:04 PM
Well, my personal take on the matter is that grunge is less of a genre and more of a scene. It's less about the musical characteristics and more about the low key, 'I don't care' mindset.
Lucid Dreams #7: Lucid Dreams - added 05/02/2009, 01:26 PM
Yes I agree with you 100% on that, I find AIC to be a heavy metal band more then anything.
The Red Clover #8: The Red Clover - added 05/04/2009, 12:45 AM
As "bluemeanie" stated, this band is who really started the whole "grunge" effect and to aid his comment I've a theory that if Kurt Cobain had handled his life a little less awkwardly and didn't commit suicide, that Nirvana themselves would not have gotten as much attention as it originally had. Awful thing to say I know, I'm not faulting the talent of Cobain nor the band but I feel if they had stuck around a little longer, actually received some level of competition especially from Alice in Chains, they would not have been seen as the end-all be-all to the "grunge" movement. I also agree with "385."

I'd give this a 10/10 simply because it's Alice in Chains stripped. It does a great deal to highlight Layne Staley's talent as well as the bands. For anyone who wanted a course in music I'd hand this to them among others. (The Beatles Anthology they released awhile ago which was I think six or seven discs was incredibly enlightening and very informative. A must-see for any fan of the band, but a tad too long for those with fleeting interests.)
Lucid Dreams #9: Lucid Dreams - added 06/19/2010, 08:11 PM
Watched this again and it never gets old.
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