REMEMBERING LAYNE STALEY PART 2: CLASH OF THE TITANS TOUR
WRITTEN BY DAVID BRONSTEIN & EDITED BY BRETT BUCHANAN
To this day there is no clear reason why Alice in Chains, especially with their style of music, ever got on the Clash of the Titans bill. Slayer and Anthrax wanted the up and coming Texans Pantera to open the show. Certainly the success of the brooding and eerie Man in the Box video on constant MTV rotation helped, and the band had just finished a European tour with co-headliners Megadeth. What was certain is that the bill did need an opening act after original choice Death Angel had to pull out after a near fatal tour bus accident. Fate had certainly dealt an ace to Alice, who would now be part of one of the biggest and extravagant tours of its time. The North American leg of the tour would take in 49 shows in just 59 days, across 26 states plus two shows in Canada, and playing to an estimated half a million fans.
Alice in Chains were viewed as outsiders on the tour. They were not invited to speak at the official press conference, but still got a mention when a journalist asked Megadeth’s Dave Ellefson, “Who’s gonna pay the damage bill at the end of the night?”. Ellefson replied, without hesitation, “Alice in Chains, the new guys”, followed by roars of laughter. Almost all the ticket stubs failed to mention that they were on the bill and you needed Supermanesque vision to see their name on the tour shirts.
The tour kicked off on May 16, 1991 at the 20,000 plus capacity Dallas Starplex, an awe inspiring venue to begin the tour, especially for Alice In Chains who had never played to a crowd that large. And the chants by the metal clad already pissed up thrash crowd were for Slayer, as Alice took to the stage just after half past seven. Layne Staley stood by the microphone and stared at the crowd below him. “Slayer, Slayer, Slayer,” was the response. Staley continued to stare until Mike Starr broke the uneasiness with the opening bass line to Would? The choice of the opener spoke volumes about Alice’s attitude. Not even the most diehard fan of the band at the Starplex that night (there were few and far between) could have known the song. It certainly was not from the band’s debut album, and given the night that would follow it was not even the band’s heaviest track. Next up was Real Thing, seamlessly followed by Put You Down, two more tracks that only tested the crowd’s patience. Some objects were thrown, a few boos were heard but by the time they kicked into We Die Young and set finale Man in the Box, they had tamed the rowdy Texas crowd. When the band left the stage on that breezy hazy summer’s night in Dallas, they had won over at least some of the revelers.
Alice had also secured respect from the other bands on the tour. Dave Mustaine had taken them under his wing, though Staley was more inclined to hang out with Satan’s friends, Slayer. The fourth stop on the tour took the Titans to Houston, nobody could of guessed that a decade later that very same venue ‘The Summit’ would be converted into a house of worship.
In New Mexico, Megadeth, now known by Alice as ‘Megabrother’, entertained them to an animal porn video starring a pig, Staley looked stunned and embarrassed, but whatever the influence the band brought home the bacon. That night during We Die Young, Alice in Chains had created a moshpit. Two days later on May 24th, Mustaine paid for the band to skydive. The Megadeth singer recalled how he had not seen Layne happier, after he landed he stated that Layne was, “almost childlike”. A few hours later in San Diego the band played their most intense and electrifying show of the tour.
When they hit their hometown, Alice threw Love Hate Love onto the set list at the request of Staley. After fourteen shows in sixteen days the band were in Salt Lake City, and there they filmed their third video: Sea of Sorrow. Known to fans as the ‘girlfriends’ video, all of the women in the video were local extras. Paul Rachman, who had directed the band’s breakthrough video Man in the Box, was again hired to work the magic. Rachman explains. “Some of them wanted their girlfriends in the video, they insisted. But some did not have girlfriends at the time so we had to cast some in Salt Lake City. My original concept did not have girlfriends, and so on. Also ‘something’ was going on between Layne and Demri at the time so we couldn’t get her there.”
Rachman was also against the idea of having to use different crew and go ‘on location’ to Salt Lake City. “The video shoot was hectic! The studio insisted that I work on the road because the band were on the ‘Clash of the Titans’ tour. They then wanted to shoot on a stage in Seattle, that was the idea. The concept was very difficult and I really wanted to do it in Hollywood with the best crew I could have. But the label pushed me to go out to Salt Lake City and we had so many technical and crew problems it was hell. Salt Lake City is Mormon country and they had all these evil rock shows out at a speedway right on the outskirts of town. I finally met the band and we shot the video, wait for it, right on the Donny and Marie Osmond sound stages!”
After the video shoot the band did an in store signing session for a few lucky fans and then headed back, with no break, onto the Titans tour. The next show would go down as one of AIC’s most memorable shows ever. To this very day, if you were to ask Jerry Cantrell about the Clash of the Titans tour, the response is always ‘Red Rocks.’ The Red Rocks Amphitheatre is a majestic place. The performing stage for artists is set right in the middle of inward and outward natural rocks, and when the sun sets right it can feel like paradise. That night though Alice were in anything but. The crowd, filled with bikers and drunks, were clearly not there for Seattle’s new Grunge rockers. A torrent of crushed cans were thrown at the band, a reused ‘piss’ bottle container was exchanged three times between Staley and the crowd, and some in the front even threatened to ‘meet’ the band after the show. Whilst many bands would have walked, Alice stayed. They soldiered on until the set was done, and when they finally did leave the venue they were confronted by a few Slayer fans, who had nothing but respect for the young rockers for daring to share a stage with their heroes. To say this was a turning point in the bands self survival is an understatement.
In Detroit two weeks later, Staley felt so confident after AIC’s set that he roamed around with other fans in the venue. It was no wonder that some attendees were unfamiliar with the group when they hit Virginia, when even the local music writer knew little about them. Apparently Alice’s highlight was the song ‘Believe the Freak’.
For the July 4th show in Weedsport, New York there was triple security but that didn’t stop fireworks being let off in general admission. Even the mighty Madison Square Garden felt the force of the tour when over 200 seats were ripped and then piled up so fans could enjoy the show. The rest of the tour went fine until the second from last show in Florida, where Layne Staley stage dived head first in order to get a trouble maker chucked out the venue.
Layne Staley had it all; he had the looks and talent to believably be on the cover of RIP and Teen magazine in the same week. In the summer of 1991 he was in his absolute prime. That eventful summer the innocence and rawness of Staley was there for all to see, he engulfed the band within it. The Clash of the Titans tour made them stronger and whilst the lyrics for their next studio album were influenced by Staley’s personal struggles, there could be little doubt that the departure of sound from Facelift to Dirt was inspired that summer by this tour and the band’s they met on it.
REMEMBERING LAYNE STALEY RETROSPECTIVE