When you think "grunge," Alice in Chains may not be the very first name that comes to mind.
But the band was among the first on that Seattle rock scene to hit the mainstream, with their 1990 debut Facelift selling steadily on the strength of the radio hit “Man in the Box” well before we found out what teen spirit smelled like. And though Alice In Chains went inactive in the mid-‘90s, and frontman Layne Staley died tragically in 2002, their popularity and influence has endured, and the surviving members reunited a few years later with new member William DuVall. So if you see the band at the Armory this Friday, you’ll hear some of the new songs that guitarist and primary songwriter Jerry Cantrell has penned for its current lineup, as well as their ‘90s classics.
Staley and Cantrell first played together in a funk band in 1987, and covered glam rock influences like Hanoi Rocks in their first show as the band that would become Alice in Chains. But by the time the band signed to Columbia and recorded its debut, they had perfected the gloomy, roaring sound that they’d become famous for. Earlier this month, Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil spoke to Rolling Stone about his favorite grunge records, and singled out the Facelift deep cut and longtime live staple “It Ain’t Like That” as a personal favorite: “I love that riff and that song, I wish I’d written it.” But Facelift also closed with an uncharacteristic moment of levity, with Layne Staley shouting “Sexual chocolate, baby!” at the end of “Real Thing,” in a nod to the Eddie Murphy comedy Coming to America.
1992’s Dirt was the biggest, heaviest, and most influential Alice In Chains album, so definitively reshaping the sound of mainstream hard rock that one of the band’s most popular disciples aptly took its name from the song “God Smack.” But the album was bookended by two acoustic EPs, 1992’s Sap and 1994’s Jar of Flies, that showcased a gentler side of Cantrell’s songwriting and Staley’s expressive range as a vocalist. The former featured “Right Turn,” a one-off by the Seattle supergroup dubbed “Alice Mudgarden,” with Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell and Mudhoney’s Mark Arm chiming in on vocals.
Layne Staley took a larger songwriting role for the band’s 1995 self-titled album, but the band soon went inactive as his heroin addiction worsened. One of his last live performances, for the taping of their 1996 MTV Unplugged special and album, featured a new song, “Killer Is Me.” And the band’s final recording with Staley in 1998, “Died,” was released a year later on the box set Music Bank. But Staley spent much of the last half decade of his life alone in his home, isolated by depression and drugs, and died of an overdose in April 2002. That so many of the greatest Alice in Chains are bleak meditations on mortality and addiction only serves to underscore the tragedy of the talented singer’s death at only 34 years old.
Alice In Chains have released three albums since 2009, and are currently touring in support of last year’s Rainier Fog. While DuVall will never wholly fill the void Staley left, the band has picked up where it left off commercially, with nearly half of their 18 top ten hits on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart in the last decade. And DuVall and Cantrell blend their voices together impressively to capture the band’s signature harmonies on songs like “Take Her Out” and “Red Giant.”
Alice In Chains
With: City and Colour
When: 6:30 Fri. Apr. 19
Tickets: All ages; $62.50 and up: more info here