Before Pearl Jam released ‘Ten’ (August 27, 1991), before Nirvana released ‘Nevermind’ (September 24, 1991), and before Soundgarden released ‘Badmotorfinger’ (October 8, 1991), Alice In Chains was on the scene with their monumental major label debut, ‘Facelift’ (August 21, 1990). The single “Man In the Box” was in constant rotation on MTV, and the band was out on the road touring, opening for such heavyweights as Van Halen (seriously, Van Halen!).
Alice In Chains only skyrocketed further two years later with their sophomore release ‘Dirt’ (September 29, 1992). ‘Facelift’ and ‘Dirt’ are legendary in music history, selling nearly 20 million copies combined and receiving countless Grammy Award nominations. The band, made up of members Layne Staley (lead vocals, guitar), Jerry Cantrell (guitars, vocals), Mike Starr (bass), and Sean Kinney (drums), were paving the way for other “grunge” bands with their unique blend of Black Sabbath heaviness and harmony co-lead vocals. They became one of the top draws on the live circuit behind their explosive live show.
HoBo Records’ ‘Freak Show’ documents 18 live songs from two complete shows, one apiece from the tours supporting ‘Facelift’ and ‘Dirt.’ The first show is from the band’s ‘Facelift’ tour, where they played the La Reina Sheraton Hotel in Los Angeles on September 15, 1990. The recording of this show is spotless, despite the editing out of any profane language. The band sounds hungry, right, and so fresh behind these tracks. Though “Man In a Box” was the breakout hit, other, deeper cuts like show opener “It Ain’t Like That,” “Bleed The Freak,” “Put You Down,” and “We Die Young” are nothing short of perfection.
The second show is taken from the December 15, 1992 show at the famed Hollywood Palladium and the recording is not nearly as good as the first show. Where the first show sounds like a soundboard recording, the second one sounds as if it was recorded from the janitors’ closet in the back of the theater. Another problem with the second show is that this was the ‘Dirt’ tour and there are only two songs showcased from that album: the show opener “Sickman” and “Would.”
Although the second show sound recording is disappointing in comparison to the first, it is tolerable if you are a diehard Alice In Chains fan. If nothing else, the first eight songs from the first show make ‘Freak Show’ worth it since you will unlikely hear the band perform nearly every song off that album. Plus, for me, Alice In Chains IS Layne Staley and you can’t ever get enough of the late singer.