The Story of Alice in Chains’ Last Show With Layne Staley
Simple logic would dictate at the dawn of 1996 that it was going to be a big year for Alice in Chains. The popular Seattle band’s self-titled third album had debuted at the top of the charts the previous November with the soon-to-be Grammy nominated single “Grind” giving a shot in the arm to rock radio that fall. Plans were underway to finally record a long in the works MTV Unplugged which, based on the two critically acclaimed acoustic EPs already released by the group, was widely anticipated.
While the recording of the Unplugged album did come the realization that April, by the midpoint of the year, the future of Alice in Chains was back in a familiar spot, filled with uncertainty. Few could have imagined though that the question mark left after the four dates opening for a reunited Kiss would turn out to be such a significant, yet unfortunate, milestone. That ended up being the case though, with July 3, 1996 at the Kemper Arena in Kansas City, the last time singer Layne Staley would front Alice in Chains live.
The decision not to tour in support of Alice in Chains had been made long before, and by the looks of the shape the drug-addled Staley was in for the Unplugged broadcast, it was a prescient one. Despite his frailty, they simply could not resist the opportunity to share the bill with the original lineup of Kiss, who had reconvened for the first time in more than a decade and a half. It was hands-down the tour of 1996, and the concerts to kick it off would mark the only consecutive gigs Alice in Chains had done since Lollapalooza three summers before.
Ironically, the slot initially went to Stone Temple Pilots, who had to pull out due to their own singer’s drug problems, which were already resulting in them being unable to properly tour behind their own recent release, Tiny Music…Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop. For an unknown reason, Kiss' management only scheduled Alice in Chains for the first four shows of the tour. The rest of the North American dates would be a revolving door of openers including the Melvins, Deftones and the Verve Pipe.
The 11-song set in Kansas City was strong, opening with three in a row from Alice in Chains; “Again,” released the day prior as the fourth single from the album, “God Am” and “Sludge Factory.” A hit parade of “We Die Young,” “Them Bones,” “Rooster,” “Would?” and “Angry Chair” followed, with the rarity “A Little Bitter” from the Last Action Hero soundtrack, “Dam that River” and “Man in the Box” closing it out.
There were a few memorable moments; Staley was genuinely thankful at the audience interest after “God Am” when he remarked, “So this is the first crowd we had standin’ up…right on.”
Inexplicably, drummer Sean Kinney hopped out from behind the drum kit in the middle of the show and sung an a cappella verse of the biggest selling Kiss song, “Beth,” and was roundly booed by the audience leading him to reply, “If I had big shoes and makeup, you’d love me – right? Well f--- you Kansas City!”
Before the “mandatory crowd pleaser” as Layne prefaced a chill-inducing performance of “Man in Box,” the singer again praised the audience, saying, “We’ve been on a week and you’ve definitely been the coolest crowd and we’re not just sayin’ that.”
Even with hindsight calling for closer inspection, there was nothing special as Alice in Chains prepared to walk off the stage at exactly 10 minutes before 9PM Central Time. The band members clasped hands and bowed. Staley and Kinney goofed off for a couple seconds by shouting into the microphone “Ooh yeah!,” the catchphrase of pro wrestler and Slim Jim spokesman “Macho Man” Randy Savage (or perhaps it was a nod to Gene Simmons of that evening's headliner). Bassist Mike Inez and guitarist Jerry Cantrell both graciously thanked those in attendance, with the former adding, “Take care of yourself.”
The salutation from Inez may not have been heard and certainly wasn’t heeded to by Staley, who overdosed on heroin in the immediate aftermath of an otherwise successful show and was hospitalized. However sad or tragic, it was a fitting postscript to Staley’s live tenure with Alice in Chains, as he succumbed to his addictions on April 5, 2002.
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