Photo credit: Darren Balch of Virtually Onstage
In an Alternative Nation exclusive, fans recently uncovered an entire Alice In Chains performance from December 1, 1989 at Washington State University. Now, for the first time in twenty-five years, you can witness the show as it happened, courtesy of Tony Harrell. Very special thanks to Lump Head Studio for making this possible. Filmed by Jason Polich. Photography used with permission by Darren Balch of Virtually Onstage. Audio Mastering by Tim Branom. You can also read an exclusive review and retrospective on the show below!
According to author David de Sola, Alice In Chains had begun the recording of their debut album, Facelift in April of 1989. Then, after months of negotiations, the band signed with Columbia Records on September 11, 1989.
Facelift would not be released until August 28, 1990 – almost nine months after this performance. Alice In Chains was formed at the very end of 1987, and by 1989 were playing shows three to four times a week. But this was their last show for a month, so they could stay up late and have a good time – as long as they made it back to Seattle the next day to sign some documents pertaining to their record deal. The band were in fine form and had much to prove, as they were virtually unheard of outside of the Washington state area.
“My best friend, Ken Cardwell… and Jason Alcott – they were the ones that got in touch to bring them over”, said WSU Student Tony Harrell. “We’d been seeing them since the (former band name) Diamond Lie days. We’d just seen them over the summer in Spokane (July 2, 1989), opening for Tesla and Great White. And we got the idea, ‘Hey, we should bring them down to Pullman.”
Promoter Ken Cardwell elaborates, “Later that year, in October of 1989, I drove from Pullman to Spokane with a buddy of mine, Jason Olcott, to see Tora Tora play. But the band opening for Tora Tora canceled, so Alice In Chains was plugged into the opening slot. Somehow we ended up having a few beers with the band after the show and I told them, ‘Hey, you guys need to play Pullman – there’s not much going on down there and kids would love to see you guys play’. They said it sounded cool and gave me (Soundman) Mark Naficy’s number to call. On the way back to Pullman that night, I said to my friend Jason – ‘How can we make this work? I’m not sure about the cost, but I have my second semester tuition money I could put up.’ I called Naficy later that week and he said I could have the band for $500 and the crew and sound equipment for (an additional) $600. So I built out a budget to be about $2,000, which was just about every last dime I had.”
“Ticket sales escalated very quickly and a decision was made to try to find a bigger venue’, remembers WSU Student Brian Marin. “That was the only time that I knew of, that a band played the CUB Ballroom.”
You can hear the actual radio commercial here:
Cardwell continued, “At the time, Alice had a pretty well-known T-shirt that said ‘Alice in Chains’ on the front and on the back it said ‘So Fuck Off’. Late at night , I’d go on campus and would write ‘Alice In Chains – SO FUCK OFF’ in chalk on the roads leading up to campus with the show date and ticket info. Needless to say, it got everyone’s attention and they couldn’t bust me for graffiti because it would wash off.”
Alice In Chains arrived the day of the show in Pullman, Washington to stay at the home of Cardwell and his roommates. Once they arrived, most of the band took a nap, went to sound check, and then returned to the home.
During the show, fans got carried away and jumped onstage, knocking guitarist Jerry Cantrell out of tune several times. Others got their hair caught in the band’s instruments while getting too close. “I got up on stage so many times that Jerry was pissed off”, Brian Marin said. “On one of the stage dives, Jerry grabbed me by the back and gave me a running head start and kind of hucked me off the stage.”
Alice In Chains opened with “Killing Yourself”, the fastest song in their repertoire. Although it worked and sounded great to start a show, it was not like their other slower Grunge songs that later appeared on Facelift. “Killing Yourself” did however initially appear on the We Die Young EP.
“Man In The Box” This break-out hit is delivered here with the ferocity that made them stars. But this audience had probably never heard the song before.
“Love, Hate, Love” showcases Layne’s haunting vocal abilities. This live version rivals Chris Cornell’s legacy with extreme power and emotion.
“We Die Young” gets the crowd head banging. But when bassist Mike Starr starts his signature move of running in circles, the whirlwind he creates cannot be stopped and Layne soon jumps in the crowd.
“Sunshine” is introduced by Layne saying ‘Always remember, we’re huge in Guam.” You can hear additional Layne humor at the 19:31 mark where he imitates cartoon Chester Cheetah (“Eye-Eye-Eye-Eye-Eye…”) He did the same for the demo recording, but kept it serious for the album recording.
“Queen Of the Rodeo” was written by Staley and Bang Gang singer Jet Silver, carried over from Layne’s previous band. Originally written as a joke, it had a faster Speed-Metal feel and worked great to get the crowds going. Layne introduced it here by saying, “This next song, living out in the sticks, you should be able to relate to this. And if you can’t, fuck you!”
“Social Parasite” had the catch phrase “So Fuck Off!” (which also graced the back of their promotional T-shirts). The song appeared on the band’s 1988 demo that was passed around to Seattle locals and some of the Pullman audience here were familiar with the song.
When a girl appeared lost on the stage and refused to move from his spot. Layne urged her to “Jump!”. He then asked her, “So what’s your name?” Someone in the crowd yelled, “Fuck her!” Layne said “What, right here?” They’re just kidding, you’re a sweet girl, I know.” The band then went into “Put You Down” without even a flinch.
“This next song is about a nasty, nasty habit – masturbation – No, I’m just kidding”, Layne said, poking fun at himself of a song in which he wrote the lyrics, “Real Thing.”
“I Can’t Remember”, slow and dark, is said to be one of the first songs that Jerry felt defined the band’s music. In this performance, he seems to be in a willing state of hypnosis.
“Sea Of Sorrow” had an over-zealous fan help Layne sing the chorus before hurling into a power stage-dive. Drummer Sean Kinney plays with power and conviction to lead the band.
“Suffragette City” was the song often used as an encore song and where people were encouraged to come up on stage (such as audience members like myself did at the Backstage show a few days earlier). But wisely, audience participation was not encouraged with such an unruly crowd. On this night, a fan was crowd surfing and not only unplugs Jerry’s guitar, but then gets his hair caught on his guitar tuning pegs. After the song is finished, security tries to step in, and Jerry waves goodbye to everyone and almost walks off the stage. Layne remains calm and Jerry returns to play “Taxi Driver” – a Hanoi Rocks song with a Glam-Punk influence which was most likely suggested by Staley.
After the final song, “Taxi Driver”, and just before leaving the stage, Layne Staley announced to all 450 people in the crowd, “Party at the White House – be there!” ‘The White House’ was the promoter’s residence they were staying at, and about 100 people went back to the six-bedroom house across from the police department.
“Someone locked me out of my bedroom and Mike (Starr) came out later with some girl, said Aaron Taylor, guitarist of the opening band (Four Idiots Without A Name). “Then we ended up playing football in the living room. “Layne was trying to break our Gun N’ Roses mirror on his forehead. And others were taking turns, trying to smash it. At some point later, there was a big line for the bathroom downstairs. When the door finally opened, Mike (Starr) came out with a different girl.”
Brian Marin reflected, “They were poor just like I was – they were all broke, but everybody knew what was about to happen, was starting to happen. Layne, Mike and I all dumped beer on our heads, saying ‘Beer was good for our hair.’ But Layne disclosed something to me that night – that he’d never taken the stage where he wasn’t high on something. I remember thinking how sad that was – that the idea that he didn’t think he could get on stage unless he was using, seemed scary to me.”
“About 3AM, I heard a knock on my bedroom door and it was Mike Starr asking for gas money to get back to Seattle”, said Promoter Ken Cardwell “They said they were promised it by their manager (but never received it). I grabbed $35 out of my cash drawer and gave it to them. With that $35, I literally broke even with the cost of the show.”