It was the hottest ticket in town, but it didn’t cost a dime.
Seattle rock band Alice in Chains celebrated the upcoming release of “Black Gives Way to Blue,” its first studio album in 14 years, with hometown fans at a free, but very exclusive concert Wednesday night at the Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum. Attendees were mostly KISW radio listeners and invited guests.
There was also a surprise guest, or rather guests, who led concertgoers Pied Piper-fashion across Seattle Center from EMP/SFM to the Pacific Science Center’s Laser Dome for an old-school sound-and-light show featuring the songs from the new album.
Nearly 450 people were crammed into Level 3 at the Science Fiction Museum for a five-song acoustic performance of classic songs. Perched on stools borrowed from the Feedback Lounge in West Seattle, and surrounded by tall Japanese lanterns, band members Jerry Cantrell, Sean Kinney, Mike Inez and William DuVall (replacing the late Layne Staley) performed stirring versions of “Brother,” “Got Me Wrong,” “Rooster,” “No Excuses” and “Down in a Hole,” a song fraught with meaning in the AIC camp.
The band seems to be in a good place these days, emerging from the tragedy of Staley’s death in 2002 and the doldrums of the early 2000s to create a new album that is creating quite a buzz among longtime fans. The album’s first single, “Check My Brain,” is already a hit, and the title track (featuring, incredibly, Elton John on piano) is a moving tribute to Staley. The album is due Sept. 29, just a few days after AIC plays another hometown show Sept. 24 at the Moore Theater.
Cantrell, who teased the crowd good-naturedly, sounded terrific when he harmonized with DuVall on the signature “Rooster.” The audience knew all the words, of course, and sang along to the smoldering tune.
DuVall, in black leather jacket, black flared pants, shades and Afro haircut, looked very different from his iconic predecessor. But he blended with the band seamlessly, joining Cantrell on the reedy harmonies that are an AIC trademark.
“You guys wanna hear some of the new stuff?” Cantrell asked after the band finished its five-song set. The answer, of course, was a resounding “Yes!”
Cantrell and the band then suddenly left the stage and headed down the stairs and out onto the Seattle Center grounds, with the surprised crowd in close pursuit. The Seahawks Blue Thunder drum line and drill team quickly joined in, and the gleeful entourage wound its way toward the Pacific Science Center while curious bystanders stared in disbelief.
At the Laser Dome, the crowd quickly settled into seats or sprawled on the floor for what would obviously be a private laser-enhanced listening party for the new album. Food and drink were served, and band members casually mingled with fans like honored guests at a high school reunion.
The trek across Seattle Center and Laser Dome party were apparently Kinney’s idea. “Fooled ’em,” he said, referring to the surprise element. It was easily one of the more unusual promotional events in recent Seattle rock history.
“So many of you have been in our family for years,” Cantrell told the crowd before the songs began playing. “It’s been a really cool journey.”
For the next hour, concertgoers sprawled on the floor or leaned back in their seats for a mesmerizing first encounter with “Black Gives Way to Blue.”