Forget the stage, it’s been almost a decade since Jerry Cantrell, Sean Kinney and Mike Inez — a.k.a. 75 percent of ’90s grunge icons Alice in Chains — have even been in the same room.
Sure, they’ve jammed with each other in various permutations since Alice last played a show together (a 1996 taping of MTV’s “Unplugged”), but never all three together. So when they announced that they’d be taking the stage again this month, it had to be for a good reason.
“We all saw what happened with the tsunamis in Southeast Asia. It was such an overwhelming tragedy,” bassist Kinney said. “So I called Jerry and Mike and they realized that we could really help some people out. So they were totally into it.”
“We’d been talking about doing something like this for a couple of years now, but we’ve never been able to work it out,” Cantrell said. “I mean, we haven’t been in a room together. But when Sean called and said he wanted to do a benefit, we were like, ‘It sounds perfect.’ And this was the right time to do it.”
So on February 18 — less than one month from that initial phone call — Cantrell, Kinney and Inez will play the K-Rock Tsunami Continued Care Concert in Seattle, which benefits the humanitarian organization CARE. Other artists on the bill include former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic and Heart’s Ann Wilson, both of whom will perform with AIC. But the question for Alice fans everywhere remained the same: Just who would fill the void left by frontman Layne Staley, who died of a drug overdose in 2002 (see “Layne Staley, Alice In Chains Singer, Dead At 34″ )?
To answer that question, Alice in Chains turned to a friend who, sadly, had just suffered a loss of his own: Damageplan frontman Patrick Lachman (see “Dimebag Darrell, Four Others Killed In Ohio Concert Shooting” ).
The band met Lachman amid tragedy. Cantrell had known the guys in Pantera for a long time, so when former Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell was shot and killed onstage while performing with his new group, Damageplan, “we were on a plane down to Texas the next day to lend our support,” he recalled. “Myself, Mike and Pat were asked to play a couple of songs at Dime’s memorial. And for Pat to do that so soon after losing his friend, it was amazing.
“It’s been a couple of years now since Layne’s been gone, and we know what it’s like to lose somebody, so we were there to lend our support just like they were there for us,” he continued. “So when the idea for this benefit came up — something positive — we knew Pat would be the perfect person to ask.”
So, lineup complete, the new quartet threw together a loose set list (“We used to let the roadies write it,” Kinney laughed. “We were never big on being prepared”) and got ready to hop a flight to Seattle, where they’ll spend a few days rehearsing. By all accounts, they’ve been re-energized by both the fan response and the prospect of playing together again.
As to whether fans might see a new version of Alice in Chains hitting the studio eventually, “We’re taking it on a step-by-step basis,” Cantrell said. “We’re excited to get together and throw down. Who can say what is going to happen in the future? I’ve been fortunate enough to have had success in this business and to play with people you admire. But it’s not quite as cool as playing with these guys. It’s a chemistry thing. It’s unwritten. And it’s bigger than all of us; it’s a larger power.”