By GEORGE AUSTIN
Craig Naso had always wanted to do a recreation of the legendary acoustic concert that Alice in Chains did for MTV’s famous “Unplugged” show. The Alice in Chains tribute band that Naso founded, called “Nutshell,” went back and forth in negotiations with Skyworks Productions and Showcase Live in Foxborough before agreeing to do the show at a most appropriate time around the 15th anniversary of the original performance.
“It does not get old and we are so proud to get asked to do this,” Naso said. “It’s like an honor.”
Nutshell will be recreating the Alice in Chains Unplugged set on Aug. 12, starting at 10 p.m. at Showcase Live.
Nutshell is a four piece band that tries to stay true to the original live sound of Alice in Chains.
“We’re going to try to have candles on the stage, not the ones you light, but the ones that are flickered,” Naso said. “We may add a couple of songs to it, though, as well as the songs they did. It’s going to be a great show.”
Naso said the original show was very plain and raw with the musicians so close to each other on a small stage. He said the audience could see vocalists Jerry Cantrell and Layne Staley looking at each other a lot during the performance.
Naso said Nutshell will play the songs from the show straight as they sounded. He said the band wants the lights to be low and the audience to be seated, just as the atmosphere was when Alice in Chains did the taping at Brooklyn Academy of Music on April 10, 1996. Naso said he wants the atmosphere to be very relaxed and for people to sing along.
“It will be a nice mellow show with really good music,” Naso said. “Hopefully, people will enjoy it and feed off the love we have for the music.”
It’s not like Nutshell, which consists of Naso on lead guitar and the vocals of Cantrell, Doug Merrill as frontman singing the vocals of Staley, Pete Gelles on bass and Pete Keoplin on drums, is not used to playing acoustically. The band usually includes about 45 minutes of acoustic music in its regular show. With the show stripped down, Naso said the audience can tell how good the late Staley’s voice was.
“When we play, everybody loves the acoustic sound,” Naso said. “They like it better.”
For the acoustic show at Showcase Live, Nutshell will have another musician sit in on rhythm acoustic guitar which Alice in Chains did on Unplugged with Scott Olson. Nutshell has picked a fan of its tribute band, Tom Toye, to play Olson’s part at the recreation show.
“He’s come to all of our shows and he really shows his love for us and I found out he can actually play,” Naso said.
In April 1996, Alice in Chains emerged from a three-year hiatus by performing on the MTV Unplugged show, the acclaimed acoustic mini-series that allowed viewers to experience popular rock bands performing their material in its basic, purest musical form. The Alice in Chains episode turned out to be one of the most memorable editions of the series, and fans and critics alike hail it to be one of the best live acoustic performances of all time by a rock band.
The band’s highest charting singles and heavy duty grunge-rock opuses such as “Rooster” and “Heaven Beside You” went over beautifully in their new, tight and emotionally-charged acoustic delivery. A live album of the performance was released in July 1996, which debuted at number three on the Billboard Top 200 chart, and was accompanied by a home video release. The album received platinum certification by the Recording Industry Association of America and the home video received gold certification. While the performance was one of Alice in Chain’s final appearances with vocalist Layne Staley, Nutshell keeps the spirit alive by capturing its essence and presenting an authentic “unplugged” tribute show that honors the raw talent of this amazing band.
Naso said he thought the songs “Nutshell,” “Frogs” and “Down in the Hole” sounded best on the Unplugged show. He said “The Killer in Me” could have been better. But he said the flow of one song to another on the live album meshes together like a story.
To prepare for the show at Showcase Live, Naso said he has watched the video of the Unplugged performance a lot and listens to the Unplugged album on the way to work.
“I think we’re going to come as close to it as anyone could,” Naso said of recreating the Unplugged set of Alice in Chains. “We don’t look like them. We just want to play their music, put the passion into it the way they did and give the respect to the music the way they did.”
He said the members of Nutshell are excited about the concert at Showcase Live. The band has played the concert facility at Patriot Place before.
Naso said Alice in Chains was outside of the grunge band circle of its time, but said every single album they came out with had a different sound. When the band came out with “Jars of Flies,” an album made with acoustic guitars which had its first number one single, he said no other group was doing what Alice in Chains was doing, which was combining heavy metal music with acoustic sounds.
Naso said he fell in love with the album. He said the vocals of Staley on “Jars of Flies” really touched him.
He said it made sense for Alice in Chains to play the Unplugged series which has featured artists, like Eric Clapton, Nirvana, R.E.M. and Bruce Springsteen, among many others over the years. Naso said the sound of Alice in Chains on its Unplugged show cannot be matched. He said the acoustic sound really amplified the beautiful singing voices of Cantrell and Staley who did not have their vocals drowned out as much by guitars as during an electric show.
Nutshell was started about six years ago after Naso discovered how much he loved performing Alice in Chains music during open mic nights. Naso said he is a friend of the Layne Staley Fund and has been introduced to Staley’s mother.
Naso said a lot of retakes had to be done during the MTV taping because of mistakes. He said Nutshell’s vocals are very tight and the band will not play a song if it does not sound right.
Nutshell has played in a lot of clubs and bars in the past. Naso said it will be nice to play the recreation of the Unplugged set at Showcase live where the venue has very high quality sound. But he said playing acoustically really shows the talent of a band because the musicians cannot hide errors.
“We’ve played a lot of big shows, but I’d say this is the biggest one because this is how we started,” Naso said.