Jane's Addiction fuse rock and sexuality
By DAVE FULTON
Scene Music Critic
In the late 1960s, Jim Morrison radiated a combination of sexuality and ambiguity during The Doors' live performances. Now, 30 years since the death of the Lizard King, sexuality and rock 'n' roll still go together like peanut butter and jelly. Perry Farrell and Jane's Addiction proved that once again this past Sunday night at the Allstate Arena in Chicago.
On their second reunion tour in five years, the band offered a sexual spectacle as well as a rehashing of old warhorses and weaker new solo material. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Jane's Addiction was one of the most innovative and original bands who also played a large part in digging the graves of numerous '80s hair metal acts. They created the Lollapalooza festival as a farewell tour, which opened the door for other such festivals as Lilith Fair, Ozzfest, H.O.R.D.E. and handfuls of others. Their sound was an interesting blend of Led Zeppelin sized riffs, aggression that rivaled the Sex Pistols, the funkiness of James Brown and an atmosphere that mirrored The Doors. They sounded no different on Sunday night.
Opening the show with "Kettle Whistle," a song from 1997's album of the same name, Farrell gave hints of what was to come. Emerging bare-chested in a flowing, parachute-sized dress containing five writhing dancers underneath, Farrell wasn't trying to be a rock God, he was the rock God. With a sly smile on his face, he extended his arms up to the sky gazing out into the crowd like a shaman in a peyote trance. The five dancers crawled out from the silky material in nothing more than fishnet stockings, nipple tassels, thong underwear and high heels. The dancers proceeded to crawl around, grab and worship Farrell as his helium-like voice — probably one of the most unique voices in rock — pierced through the arena with amazing clarity.
Farrell is without a doubt one of the most exciting frontmen in music today. Onstage, he was an intense free spirit, a no-holds-barred showman. His outfits were outlandish — he wore everything from an enormous dress to a tight red leisure suit to a coonskin cap to nothing at all but his briefs.
Farrell takes what he does seriously, but not so seriously that he becomes a caricature. During the performance, Farrell pranced, strutted and posed on the stage in absolute ambiguity. One minute he seemed as masculine as John Wayne, and then, almost instantaneously, he oozed feminine characteristics that would make even Audrey Hepburn seem savage. He was both yin and yang, good and evil transforming into a sexual Christ-like figure preaching "Sex is violent" to thousands disciples in "Ted … Just Admit It."
Jane's Addiction filled the show with classics from 1988's Nothings Shocking and 1990's Ritual de lo Habitual adding subtle nuances to each song in order to keep them fresh while maintaining the essence that made the songs great. A supercharged "Stop" was a blitzkrieg on the senses leaving the audience feeling as if a speeding train had just blasted it.
"Three Days" was played as an epic journey through delicate psychedelia and chest-pounding distortion back to the 1960s as Farrell led the five dancers in a snake-like coil slithering around the stage. Guitarist Dave Navarro — tattooed, shirtless and nipple-pierced — brought the song to its dramatic conclusion with a furious roller-coaster ride solo. He was in perfect form, playing with the passion of an old bluesman, executing speed and precision as his guitar cried and squealed. Stephen Perkins' hammered out blasts of drums that kept the song chugging forward while bassist Martyn LeNoble (a substitute for original bassist Eric Avery, who chose not to tour) maintained the song's groove with a slinky bass line.
In a move becoming more and more common for bands to do, Farrell and company played an acoustic set on a scaled down stage at the back of the floor area. "Classic Girl" and "Jane Says" sent the almost capacity crowd into a frenzy as Farrell encouraged the audience to join in singing. He toasted the crowd and sipped on what appeared to be a glass of the highly potent green liquor, Absinthe. The band, however, lost much of the momentum the first set had built when Farrell and Navarro each played a song from their recent solo albums. The songs were unnecessary and weak, especially in the context of classic Jane's Addiction numbers.
The band did manage to regain momentum when retaking the main stage with "Mountain Song" and "Ted … Just Admit It."
"Ted," the highlight of the evening, was transformed into a 12 minute opus describing the desensitization of modern society. The highly chaotic song spewed sexuality as the scantily clad dancers writhed and groped in what appeared to be a mock orgy, an ironic twist to the content of the song. Perkins' thunderous drumbeats enhanced the feeling of barely controlled chaos the song emanated while a brilliant lighting set up gave a sensual, warm red glow to the stage. Laser lights darted spastically throughout the crowd as Farrell and one of the dancers swung in a merry-go-round-like swing flying faster and faster and higher and higher before Farrell's body turned limp and collapsed at the song's climactic closing.
While Jane's Addiction have not released a collective effort of all new material in 11 years, the band remains as fresh and exhilarating as ever. For some critics, the band has turned into a washed up tribute act to their former selves only performing for the money. But to call them a nostalgia act would be a great misnomer and undercut everything they have given to the music world.
New material or not, the spectacle of their live performances of classics is enough to carry the band. Considering the downward spiral popular music has taken since the death of the Lizard King, especially the recent boy band craze, the very fact that Jane's Addiction are still performing and performing well is a breath of fresh air.
All Scene Stories for Tuesday, October 30, 2001