As effortlessly as Alice In Chains made their now-iconic MTV Unplugged show look at the time, the band actually had a hell of a lot of odds stacked against them behind-the-scenes.
For starters, they hadn’t played a show in almost three years due to Layne Staley’s ongoing health and addiction issues. And because of that, guitarist Jerry Cantrell knew in his heart that this would be one of the last ever performances he would do with Layne, once recalling that he walked on to that Unplugged stage “knowing that my band is probably fucking over.”
Sadly, he wasn’t wrong, as the shows opening for KISS after the MTV Unplugged gig would be their last ever with Staley.
As if that wasn’t enough emotional weight to bear, Jerry Cantrell had food poisoning that night, too!
Despite the odds, they gracefully flowed through a gorgeous set, proving that even when stripped down to bare musical bones, their songs and music could still pack an emotional punch at any volume.
One often overlooked musical history fact about the gig was that it wasn’t just fans and press in the room.
In fact, some schlubs named Metallica were sitting front row the entire show, there to support their longtime friends after having just recently released their divisive “Load” album. Jerry recalls how much it meant to have Metallica’s support at the show:
“Having Metallica watching the gig helped. Those guys have always been in our inner circle of rock’n’roll brothers, so to have the whole band there meant a lot.”
While the support was appreciated, that certainly didn’t stop the guys in Alice In Chains from getting right down to some good old-fashioned friend ribbing. At the time, Metallica caught the ire of long-time fans who felt betrayed by the band’s new fashionable looks and short haircuts that were donned for the “Load” era. Yes, at stupid as that sounds, it was truly a big deal at the time.
So much so that Alice In Chains bassist Mike Inez decided to poke fun at his friends by writing the words “friends don’t let friends get friends haircuts…” on his bass for all to see during the show. For some context, in the 90’s, “friends don’t let friends drive drunk” was an anti-drunk driving campaign tagline that was engrained in the cultural zeitgeist of anyone who owned a TV set.
As the night went on, Alice In Chains took other opportunities to shine on Metallica, playing parts of both “Battery” and “Enter Sandman” in between songs.
Jerry Cantrell would later recall Mike’s decision to give Metallica a hard time, saying:
“When we were doing the unplugged in New York, Metallica all showed up, all four of the guys. They’re all sitting in a row and they all had these new short hair cuts and stuff, it was pretty funny.
So, Mike (Inez) wrote some stuff on his bass about friends not letting friends get haircuts cause they were all GQ-looking and cleaned up and stuff.”
You can watch Jerry recall the Metallica interactions below in his own words: