Alice in Chains resurfaced on April 10, 1996 to perform their first concert in two and a half years for MTV Unplugged, a program featuring all-acoustic set lists. The show first aired on MTV on May 28, 1996. A live album of the performance was released in July 1996, which debuted at number three on the Billboard 200, and was accompanied by a home video release. The album has received platinum certification by the RIAA and the home video release has received gold certification by the RIAA. A full length DVD of the concert was also later released in 1999. The songs "Angry Chair", "Frogs", and "The Killer Is Me" were cut from the original MTV broadcast but are included on both the CD and home video releases. The album was re-released as a CD/DVD package on September 18, 2007.
The performance was one of the band's final appearances with vocalist Layne Staley. The performance featured some of the band's highest charting singles, including "Down in a Hole", "Heaven Beside You", and "Would?", and introduced a new song, "The Killer Is Me". The show marked Alice in Chains' first appearance as a five-piece band, adding second guitarist Scott Olson. It is often hailed as one of the most memorable editions of MTV Unplugged, with a reputation comparable to the famous editions featuring Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Eric Clapton, and Bob Dylan.
Mike Inez's bass had the phrase "Friends Don't Let Friends Get Friends Haircuts..." written on it, directed at the members of Metallica who were in the audience and had recently cut their hair short. Inez and drummer Sean Kinney did pay tribute to Metallica, however, playing the intro to their hit song "Enter Sandman" just before "Sludge Factory". Before "Angry Chair," Jerry Cantrell paid further tribute by playing the intro to "Battery" going into the Hee Haw song, "Gloom, Despair, and Agony on Me". This was omitted from the CD but can be found on the VHS and DVD.
The album initially received mixed reviews from critics. Allmusic's Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote in his review of the album: "It doesn't offer anything that the albums don't already. The acoustic arrangements of the harder songs sound like novelties, and the rest sound like rehashes of their previous work, only without much energy." Sandy Masuo of Rolling Stone wrote in her review "Unplugged certainly reaffirms the emotional range and technical prowess of Alice in Chains. But it lacks electricity in more ways than one. The concentrated catharsis in Alice in Chains' music is still best heard with the amps cranked up to 11."
"Killer Is Me" (Cut from MTV Broadcast, included on the re-release)
The DVD release shows another take of "Sludge Factory," in which Layne Staley mixes up the lyrics at the beginning of the song which is ended shortly after. They then go into the "formal" take which was used on the CD.