Back in the late 1980s, before they became famous, the guys in Alice in Chains dreamed of playing the Central Tavern as soon as they were old enough.The band’s first sold-out show at the iconic Seattle rock club was a defining moment that continues to resonate with the group today.
“Our goal is really simple,” drummer Sean Kinney said in a phone call from Texas. “We want to go anywhere that people are willing to let us play… In our minds, we’re still trying to pack out the Central.”Alice in Chains, playing Saturday at The Gorge on the second day of KISW-FM’s Pain in the Grass festival (part of the larger Uproar Festival tour), recently released its fifth studio album, “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here,” featuring the band’s trademark blend of howling rockers and heavy, semi-acoustic ballads.The band (including Kinney, Jerry Cantrell on guitars and vocals, Mike Inez on bass and William DuVall on vocals) has always had a knack for picking its own hits. The new album’s first two singles, “Hollow” and “Stone,” were chosen without record label involvement. Same for the third single, the semi-acoustic “Voices.”
Alice in Chains’ commercial breakthrough came in the early 1990s with the release of its first full-length album, “Facelift.” Album sales were modest at first, but when MTV added “Man in the Box” to its regular rotation, the song took off.
The band encountered resistance from its label when it tried to release the now-classic, seven-minute song as the first single.
“They said, ‘This is a career killer. It’s too long,’” Kinney said. “But that song was a turning point. It kind of punched a hole on MTV and radio. It changed everything for us. And I think the record company gained some respect for us and realized that maybe these guys who they thought were insane actually knew something that they didn’t.”
Alice in Chains has been running smoothly since 2009, when DuVall replaced original singer Layne Staley, who died in 2002 after a long struggle with depression and drug addiction. Another original member, bassist Mike Starr, died in 2011 of a prescription drug overdose. Kinney thinks about his friends every day.
“They were family,” Kinney said of Staley and Starr. “They’re not gone and forgotten. We’re here to keep that music that we made together alive.”
Kinney, who is a co-owner of The Crocodile, lamented the current state of rock.
“I like bands that play instruments and sing,” he said. “A lot of bands nowdays run Pro Tools. It’s amazing how little they actually play. If the machine goes down, the show is over. It’s amazing that people pay to see that. It’s completely anti-rock ‘n’ roll. Rock is supposed to live and breathe and be dangerous.”