ALICE IN CHAINS: LIVE (1990-1996; 2000)
1) Bleed The Freak; 2) Queen Of The Rodeo; 3) Angry Chair; 4) Man In The Box; 5) Love, Hate, Love; 6) Rooster; 7) Would?; 8) Junkhead; 9) Dirt; 10) Them Bones; 11) God Am; 12) Again; 13) A Little Bitter; 14) Dam That River.
During the long waiting period that followed Tripod — the period when Columbia Records expected Layne Staley to pull himself together, yet he pulled a fast one on them and pulled himself apart instead — slaves were put to the hard task of searching the vaults for more Alice In Chains stuff to satisfy the presumably hungry public. Results consisted of a large boxset, Music Bank, which I do not give a special review because the content of previously unavailable material was quite low (and also for adhering to sinful compiling practices, such as including Dirt in its entirety but replacing the final recording of 'Junkhead' with a demo version so that the true fan would have to buy the album separately); and this live album, with recordings culled from a variety of shows, including five songs from their very last two gigs with Staley.
Unlike Music Bank, the live album is well worth your money if you love the band; it is nice, after all, to have a proper document of their live show that is not Unplugged — it certainly feels weird to have one of the loudest and crunchiest bands of the decades represented exclusively through their acoustic output when it comes to live shows. Live corrects that problem; technically, its existence is a necessity.
Two things dampen the joy, though. First, the sound quality is very much so-so; not bootleg level, but something tells me these recordings were not originally intended for commercial release. Vocals are captured poorly, guitars are not properly separated from crowd noises, and drums can sometimes be very tinny. In comparison with the band's tight-as-hell production standards in the studio, Live almost feels... limp? Which brings us to the second problem: the songs were so perfect in the first place — brutal, ass-kicking, and simultaneously polished to the highest level of catchiness and expressivity — that improving upon them in a live setting is virtually impossible. Face it: your guitar sound will be sloppier, your vocalist will imminently miss some notes, all the cool tricks you used in the studio to spice up the atmosphere will be irreproductible, and what do you get in return? The mystical, untappable live feel?..
Track-wise, there are only a couple minor surprises: one of the band's two contributions to the soundtrack of Last Action Hero, 'A Little Bitter' (decent, but unspectacular funk-rocker), and probably the oddest song the band ever did but never released in a studio version: 'Queen Of The Rodeo', an explosive mix of country-rock and thrash metal (!) that sends up both genres as roughly as possible (particularly the former, with telling lines like 'I ain't no queer, go fuck a steer'). If you have to know what Alice In Chains' understanding of humour amounts to, you will have to get acquainted with the record.
As for the regular material, not a single song opens itself up from any unexpected sides; it is generally just a question of how well they can reproduce the power of the originals on stage. Props have to be given to Layne, who, despite all the reputed assholishness of his character, works really hard to give the people what they want. But, let's admit it, he is still better in the studio. There is no improvisation, either, or surprising rearrangements of any of the songs — which is understandable, since most of them are performed here within months or so of the studio release. All in all, Live is certainly truer to the true face of Alice In Chains than Unplugged ever hoped to be — yet, out of the two, Unplugged is certainly the more interesting project.