The ugly truth revealed then was that the “legendary” formula of singer Perry Farrell, guitarist Dave Navarro, bassist Eric Avery and drummer Stephen Perkins had been exactly that – a legend. For the assembled who were led to believe that the original Jane’s possessed some otherworldly powers, well, the reality was far removed from what historians had claimed.
As if to further underscore this point, Jane’s Addiction’s box set, A Cabinet of Curiosities, released to coincide with their reunion tour, featured a dvd with live performances that, while competent, certainly weren’t the stuff of hallowed invincibility. And this was theoretically choice footage from their height of power.
Then again, at their “height,” Jane’s was a drug-addled, temperamental unit at best. And so was their audience, for that matter. History might be written by victors, but not necessarily sober ones. So as with tales of Paul Bunyan, John Henry and the male multiple orgasm, the takeaway from that show was that original-members-Jane’s-Addiction-live-awesomeness legends could not be trusted.
What a welcome surprise Tuesday night brought, then, in the shape of the second of two sold-out shows at Hollywood’s intimate John Anson Ford Amphitheatre, wherein Jane’s Addiction, some 20-ish years removed from the supposed zenith of their career, took the stage and quickly established that they were older, wiser, apparently lucid – and, after ripping through an opening salvo of “Whores,” “Just Because” (an underrated song from 2003’s Strays, which sounded right at home alongside classic Jane’s material) and “Ain’t No Right” — better than ever.
This wasn’t the so-called “classic” Jane’s lineup that was kicking so much ass and not bothering to take names, however. Instead, Farrell and company stepped backward in time to 2003, when Chris Chaney took over bass duties after a decade of various Spinal Tap-like Eric Avery fill-ins (including Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers). There was nothing wrong with Chaney in 2003, and as 1,400 or so hardcore fans witnessed at the Ford, there’s nothing wrong with him today. Chris Chaney’s biggest crime to date has simply been that he’s not Eric Avery. But the statute of limitations is about to run out on that one, because if you take some time to evaluate the history of the original Jane’s members’ non-Jane’s output, something quickly becomes apparent: Eric Avery sort of sucks. Take, for example, his unremarkable Polar Bear project, or Deconstruction, the thoroughly limp record he released with Dave Navarro immediately after Jane’s demise. In retrospect, neither one of those exhibited elements that deserved to have Jane’s fans pining for Avery’s return for nearly two decades.
Sadly, almost all of the original Jane’s members fail to pass muster in similar tests: in addition to the limp Deconstruction, Navarro holds the honor of participating on the worst Red Hot Chili Peppers record in their canon (that’s saying something), and his solo album, Trust No One, still makes great budget bin fodder to this day. Farrell fared not much better with his solo attempt, Song Yet To Be Sung, nor with his group Satellite Party, both of which keep Navarro company in the $1 section at used cd stores everywhere, right alongside Chaney, Perkins and Navarro’s other regretful collaboration – Panic Channel. In fact, the only real post-Jane’s “rock” releases** that carry any weight at all are those by Farrell and Perkins in the form of the consistent, if not consistently good, Porno for Pyros.
What’s the lesson then – the sum of the parts are greater than the whole? Well, that, and probably something along the lines of “all their solo stuff pretty much squeaks gas, which made everyone believe in their minds that the original line-up of Jane’s was much better live than it actually was.”
Getting back to Tuesday’s show, Jane’s continued to romp expertly through their set, including old-generation “hits” such as “Been Caught Stealing,” “Ocean Size,” “Three Days” and, in the only deviation from their show the night before, “Then She Did…,” which Farrell introduced by way of saying “now we’re going to play something beautiful,” which then they did. Throughout, they mixed in new material from their upcoming album The Great Escape Artist in the form of “End To The Lies” and “Irresistible Force,” which weren’t terrible, as far as an older band’s new material goes.
One thing Jane’s has always wanted for live was Farrell’s ability to hit the higher notes from their recordings. The usual result has been a trying-but-not-there mewl, or worse, some attempt to cloak such efforts with various vocal effects. On Tuesday, Farrell was wise enough to avoid any such dangerous notes from the older songs, singing in lower keys when potential trouble spots approached. That move solidified his performance, which, coupled with his dapper suited appearance, kinetic grooving around stage and leaps from the drum riser when the fancy struck him, made him a particularly magnetic front man.
In between songs Farrell was exceptionally chatty, addressing the house but also making personal conversation with fans in the front row, including a pregnant woman and an 11 year-old who was at his first concert (to whom Farrell dispensed such sage advice as “embrace the good, but also embrace the bad” while complimenting the kid’s mom on “knowing what’s up” and admitting his first concert was Blue Oyster Cult, which sent the rest of the band into an impromptu snippet of “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper.”) He was likewise friendly enough to share a joint with someone, borrow someone else’s glasses for part of a song, shake hands with just about everyone and share his wine with one lucky fan, who, judging by Farrell’s zeal for life, probably got to sample a tasty grand cru for the price of his concert ticket.
From its inception, Jane’s Addiction has been about spectacle, so the show included its fair share of the expected exotic dancers, moveable set pieces and lasers (“Irresistible Force,” in particular won the award for greatest visual display of the night). Navarro, whose facial transformation into the V For Vendetta mask is now complete, did his part by pinwheeling around stage between bouts of shredding, providing an additional focal point for those not impressed enough with Farrell, the dancers or lasers. While it’s pretty much expected at this point that Navarro’s going to be shirtless whether on stage or going to the post office, it was rather inexplicable that he took the stage wearing a vest for about ten minutes, then augmented his naked torso after removing it by donning a fedora after the fact. This wasn’t as inexplicable as someone in the crowd shouting a request of “Entourage, Entourage, play ‘Superhero!” but it was a close second.
“Mountain Song” and “Stop!” logically concluded Jane’s set with a one-two bitch slap combination, and while the single-song encore of “Jane Says” was both predictable and anticlimactic, it wasn’t enough of a debit to undo what had come for an hour and change beforehand. Not that anyone was complaining anyway – from the looks of the mostly older white dude crowd, many were seeing Jane’s Addiction for the first time, and they were perfectly happy to sing along to the iconic track.
One thing you can’t take away from Jane’s Addiction – regardless of their legacy (deserved or not) — they haven’t rested on their laurels. Since their post-Lollapalooza self-destruction in the 90s, any subsequent iteration of an Avery-less Jane’s has continued to forge ahead. It’s been embarrassing and/or just bad in spots, but if the latest results continue to be anything like what fans experienced Tuesday night at the Ford, to Eric Avery I say –
*Truffle Jones has seen Jane’s Addiction multiple times through their various incarnations.
**Excepting Perkins’ Banyan, which strictly speaking, tends toward the more noodley muso world than rock.