It’s extremely unusual, in the modern live music scene, to see long-time-famous rock acts who are NOT following the popular gimmick of playing one of their classic albums from start to finish. It’s a strange phenomenon to think about, because for many of these bands, such a concept would have seemed bizarre back in their original heyday; part of the intrigue of a live show comes from wondering whether the band onstage will play your favorite song, resurrect an unusual B-side from another time, follow the rhythm of playing popular pieces only, or even take requests from the audience. The unpredictability of the set adds excitement, especially when the show itself is also highly theatrical in nature, with custom-made stages and an ensemble of backing performers who dance, leap, and move in an acrobatic fashion, rather than simply add sonic accompaniment to the musicians before them. The Los Angeles alternative rock masters known as Jane’s Addiction carry these factors into their concerts in spades, bringing a brightly-lit and ever-shifting spectacle to their performance, and with a set that spans all 25 years of the band’s work.
The sprawling, colorful circus of Jane’s Addiction that would occupy most of the evening was barely even hinted at in the sallow shadows and stark vertical light bars that illuminated Londonion openers thenewno2, who plowed through their 40 minute set with a determined, dark precision. With the release of their new record thefearofmissingout, singer and lead songwriter Dhani Harrison has shifted his style into a more menacing, yet expertly engineered, sound that is both eerily minimal and futuristically diverse in its many tones. Harrison traded duties between guitar, keyboard and ukulele throughout their time onstage, swaying back and forth between keyboardist Paul Hicks and guitarist Jeremy Faccone as the group chugged out their electric-twinged riffs and phantomlike dirges. The stark lights and harsh shadows brought an urgency and directness to the band’s performance, with the energy growing steadily to a massive release by the end of their near-hour onstage.
Never one to shy away from a jocular and over-the-top display for their onstage presence, Jane’s Addiction’s set bore a massive sculpture in the shape of two naked women, flanked on each side by a towering dais that served as home for swinging dancers and soaring acrobats. Scores of strobes and seachlights threw the band into sharp relief as they marched onstage to a torrential flood of applause and screams, the excitement so palpable that singer Perry Farrell spent most of the set grinning gleefully back at his onlookers as he swayed back and forth onstage. While the opening number, “Underground” (from the band’s 2011 release The Great Escape Artist) was a dark, pulsing bruiser of an opener, Farrell and the others — guitarist Dave Navarro, bassist Chris Chaney and drummer Stephen Perkins — sprang into life, bellowing and gesticulating in a furious manner, as they unleashed “Mountain Song” to the ecstatic horde before them.
For each of the songs on The Great Escape Artist — which the visual part of the show was themed around, but which, by no means, was the key focus of most of the set — a set of dancers moved about on the raised dais behind the band, occasionally dropping down to undulate against Ferrell and Navarro as they stalked their way across the stage. Many of the other pieces of the evening, including “Ocean Size” and “Been Caught Stealing”, were accompanied by videos and slideshows on colossal screens behind the band, most visible behind Chaney, who was in silhouette for the brighter pieces. The energy of the evening shifted midway through for performances of “Jane Says” and “Chip Away”, which saw Navarro take up first an acoustic guitar and then a set of percussion alongside Chaney, the songs breaking up the intense flow of the evening in favor of a moment to ensnare the audience within a groovier, near-tribal sway.
Fans who were excited by “Chip Away” and other tunes of old were offered a fantastic treat in the form of a trio of classic pieces, back to back: “Up The Beach”, the snarling opener of Nothing’s Shocking, the relentless, stomping “Whores” from the band’s self-titled debut, and a magnificent performance of the epic “Three Days” from Ritual de lo Habitual. There was barely a moment for the crowd to breathe before the band launched into “Splash A Little Water On It”, a new piece that had the most theatrical accompaniment of the night — a man taking a bucket, drenching himself repeatedly with his bare hands, and slathering paint over his face like a rabid primate, a fearsome soul possessed by an evil spirit. With the growing, churning energy of the theater growing to a maddening peak, the dam was finally burst when Farrell and the others roared into “Stop!” and “Summertime Rolls” to close out their set, the rampaging crowd moving in a continuous throng and responding with peals of approving shouts and howls.
Jane’s Addiction and their caterwauling technicolor onslaught are a testament to the unyielding creativity of their era, and despite having 25 years under their belt, they are none the weaker nor lacking of feral passion. Farrell moves with the sinuous precision of a predatory cat, both unctuous and razor-sharp simultaneously, while Navarro bleeds forth rapid-fire shredding from song to song, his fingers dancing with such delicate ease that his effort appears to be dizzyingly minimal beneath the brow of concentration. In the age of needing to stay afloat by resurrecting sunken ships, Jane’s Addiction are an ever-present, steadfast island in the sea of ancient waters, and I, for one, hope that their glorious mayhem lives for yet another 25 years to come.
Additional photos from the show below. All photos © 2012 Jonathan Pirro.