May 10, 2012
Dallas, TX USA
Review by David DiPietro
Photos by James Villa
Like the Sex Pistols a decade before them, Jane's Addiction was a band destined to self-destruct early. Whether by drug habit or grand design, these guys lived and played on the edge and most of who inhabited such rarified territory usually didn't do so for very long.
If cats like REO Speedwagon and Aerosmith all had nine lives, then Jane's Addiction were on their tenth or eleventh by 1991. That's when the group went from being a cult phenomenon that had recently escaped the L.A. bar circuit, to overnight darlings of the so-called alternative rock movement. This was largely due in part to Jane's founder Perry Farrell's role in organizing the musical showcase known as the Lollapalooza Festival. Following that tour, which Jane's Addiction headlined, the group disbanded amidst a haze of hard drug dependency and in-fighting over publishing royalties, with bassist Eric Avery and guitarist Dave Navarro splitting to form Deconstruction and lead singer Perry Farrell and drummer Stephen Perkins forming Porno for Pyros - both of which were ultimately a dead end.
With that brief history lesson, it comes as no small miracle that twenty years later, Jane's Addiction even exists again in 2012. With Farrell and Navarro leading the way, the band transformed McFarlin Auditorium from an oracular spectacular into a gilded palace of sin, their first appearance in Dallas since 2003. Touring behind the Great Escape Artist, a diverse new album which ranks alongside 1990's Ritual de lo Habitual as being the band's best, three quarters of the original band (only bassist Avery now being absent) brought the proverbial house down. The one hour and 40 minute concert seemed to be a kinky 'Theatre of the Absurd' meets musical Cirque du Soleil in a spirited burlesque joint on acid run by proprietor Albert Hofmann.
The band spared no expense in bringing a fine-tuned show to the comfy confines of the stoic McFarlin. Nestled quietly in a corner of the SMU campus, the venue would host a well-choreographed show that would have belonged more fittingly in an opera house; its battery of lighting and LED screens fit for an arena. For the fortunate hungry audience of some 2,200 hearty souls, tonight they would be musically richer for the experience.
Taking the stage amidst six banks of flower-shaped lights, which emitted hues of violet blue, the band kicked off the evening with, "Underground," the opening cut off of the Great Escape Artist. The house sound was already tweaked by the middle of the first number and the acoustics at McFarlin, it must be said, are superb; perhaps even better than my last time there, which was to see the Police with opening act, XTC, in 1980. At this point, it was difficult to understand why there are not more rock concerts at a pleasantly pristine venue such as this.
"Mountain Song," one of the band's signature numbers from its 1988 LP, Nothing's Shocking, was next. Farrell ventured out on a mini catwalk in front of the stage, high-fiving the adoring throngs in the front row. Whatever ego Farrell may have, it didn't show. One got the distinct impression that if he had the time, the singer would have shaken hands and conversed at length with everyone in the concert hall. Perhaps this was helped by the large bottle of cabernet sauvignon in his hand, which he proceeded to nurse throughout the evening.
As this was a mostly younger audience in attendance, by the third tune the audience had devolved into Motorola masturbation en masse. Seemingly everyone in the crowd clicked away, or recorded the proceedings, on their hand-held devices. At one point, Farrell grabbed the phone of the girl standing next to me and proceeded to take pictures of himself and the audience, much to her shrieking delight. I kept hoping he would throw the damned thing as far as he could, but he politely gave it back to her when the song finished.
Perched above an LED screen on stage left, two Asian female dancers gyrated like '60s go-go girls. During "Just Because" and "Been Caught Stealing," they proceeded to tie one another up dominatrix-style, with whips and spankings coming with the territory. At several points in the show, audience members glued to their phones seemed torn between who should bear the brunt of their BlackBerrys - the band or the dancers. Two frat-boy video voyeurs behind me were obviously unconcerned with any music whatsoever. They began yelling for the girls to break out vibrators during "Ain't No Right," not realizing they themselves were the true dildos in the house.
"Ted, Just Admit it," showcased some awe-inspiring prowess on Fender Jazz bass by new recruit Chris Chaney, who proved him self to be a more than worthy successor to Eric Avery's 4-string histrionics. "Twisted Tales," another tune from the new disc, proved the recent material can sit quite comfortably and proudly next to the standards, including the deep cuts which soon followed.
At this point in the show, Jane's Addiction took a page out of the Queen playbook. In the 20 seconds or so of stage darkness following "Twisted Tales," the road crew managed to assemble an entire alternate set of acoustic equipment completely assembled and mic'd-up before anyone in the audience could see what happened. On a side note, in Queen's case, changing out stage designs was always a bit more spectacular as an entire set anchored to the ceiling, was brought down from above the lighting rig when they made their quick switch.
With the guitarists on acoustic/electric's, and Perkins on Simmons Electronic Drums, the band treated the Dallas crowd to a three-song mini-set which consisted of fan favorites, "Classic Girl," "Jane Says," and "Chip Away." The latter was a rarely-played track off of the band's sonically underwhelming live album from 1987.
Once again, during a brief period of darkness between songs, roadies managed to clear out the acoustic equipment from one end, while others brought out four floor toms from the other. This set the stage for the entire band to engage in a drum quartet. This was a variation on something I had seen Jane's Addiction do at Tommy's in Deep Ellum (later Deep Ellum Live) in 1989. There, three vocal mics up front were placed into an Igloo Cooler before the entire band began beating on it with drumsticks. Pounding away with reckless abandon, it created a rhythmic, eerily hypnotic effect. Guitarist Dave Navarro particularly shined during this segment of the show. The musician clearly demonstrated that if he should ever get tired of playing guitar, he has the chops to beat the skins in about 85 percent of the so-called rock bands in existence today.
"Up the Beach" and "Ocean Size," got the third and climactic part of the set firing in fine fashion. Everybody in the audience seemed to feel what was coming next, when bassist Chaney came to the front of the stage and pounded out the opening bars of what is perhaps Jane's Addiction's best-ever tune, the epic "Three Days." Displaying a heavy progressive / classic rock influence, this song takes the listener on a musical journey in a way not dissimilar to Rainbow's "Gates of Babylon," or Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir". The audience eagerly went along for the entire ride as the band played on in all of its shimmering glory.
After departing the stage, Farrell & Co. came back on a few minutes later in response to a frantic crowd clamoring for more. It was clear no one wanted this show to end. The band responded to the enthusiasm with one of the best tunes from the new album, "Irresistible Force (Met the Immovable Object)". The audience went ballistic during this tune. The entirety of McFarlin Auditorium, and its three tiers bouncing, swayed swaying along with the song's primal gallop. I once read that Pink Floyd played this room in 1972. During the band's sonic masterpiece (Careful with That Axe, Eugene,) several pieces of the tile fell off of the ceiling. SMU administrators may want their engineering department to check out the building and its 1926 foundation again.
Jane's returned one more time to the glistening bright cream and orange hall's stage for appropriately enough, "Stop," the leadoff track from Ritual de lo Habitual. Radio-wise, it's one of the band's more popular numbers. The crowd soaked this up like Calamine lotion in a poison ivy ward; sending them happily home, or possibly just to the massive fountain outside the building, for a psychedelic moonlight dip and continuation of the midnight revelry.