2001 / Live Reviews / Music

Concert Review: Jane’s Addiction’s Re-‘Relapse’ Is A Familiar Fix

Alternative Rock Heroes Reform Again

It was right after a vicious, volcanic performance of “Mountain Song” that Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell seemed to forget himself.

Photo: Warner Brothers

Photo: Warner Brothers

Prowling the stage at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday night, Farrell absentmindedly started delivering his customary rap that leads into band favorite, “Pigs in Zen” — a song the art-rock outfit hasn’t played for a decade — even though the song wasn’t on the band’s set list. Just for that moment, it seemed like Farrell was transported back 10 years ago.

In 1991, Jane’s Addiction was on top of the world. The Los Angeles-based group’s third album, “Ritual de lo Habitual,” rivaled their spectacular major-label debut and achieved platinum record sales with little MTV or radio support. At the same time, the band headlined the inaugural Lollapalooza tour, a traveling, mixed-media showpiece for alternative rock that was created by Farrell and would continue each summer throughout the ’90s. The success of Lollapalooza blazed a path for other package tours like Ozzfest and Lilith Fair.

But 1991 was also the year that Farrell and company left it all behind. Shortly after Lollapalooza, Jane’s Addiction splintered because of in-fighting and the members’ rampant drug use. Although the group had only squeezed out three albums in their five-year existence, the band had achieved legendary status, breaking down music industry walls and setting the stage for Nirvana and the ’90s alternative music explosion. Their demise was a storybook ending as they opted to “burn out than fade away.”

Since then, the lure to tamper with that legacy, to reform Jane’s Addiction — whether for money or just to relive the experience of playing some great songs in a great band — is a fix that’s proved too tempting.

In 1997, Jane’s Addiction reunited for the “Relapse” tour (without original bassist Eric Avery who declined to participate). The tour was nominally in support of a new album of outtakes and live cuts, but the group put on a “greatest hits” show.

Four years later and still without any new material (albeit Navarro and Farrell have solo albums out), the band is back again for the “Jubilee 2001” tour, doling out yet another portion of its Zeppelin-esque rock.

As for the St. Paul show, the band was excellent, but they should be. They’ve played these songs often enough.

And maybe it was the absence of new material or the band’s decision to play large arenas (instead of mid-sized venues as they did for the “Relapse”), but the Xcel Energy Center was half-empty.

The show’s lack of drawing power surely wasn’t helped by the concert’s opening acts. In other cities, the tour has featured Femi Kuti, son of African funk god Fela Kuti. On this night, we get arena-rockers Live and one-hit wonders Stereo MCs. Whoever booked these two acts and thought they’d bolster the bill stopped listening to the radio in 1995. In recent years, both outfits have been exiled from their erstwhile perch on MTV and are past their creative prime. Their inclusion on the tour really cements the feeling that this is a ’90s nostalgia trip.

Stereo MCs’ brief set was filled with generic hip-hop beats forming a rhythmic train wreck over and over. They included their big hit, “Connected,” but it didn’t help connect with the crowd.

Surrendering any chance of out-rocking the headliners, Live decided it was “Unplugged” time and played their 10 songs acoustically, sitting on couches. This was a mistake as the group’s dynamic rhythm section, especially in an arena show, easily overpowered their three-guitar frontline. Live lead singer Ed Kowalcyzk, wearing a one-piece, denim workman’s uniform, had to carry much of the melody and his vocal histrionics got tiresome.

Live’s stint ended ridiculously, with a cheesy cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” which was greeted with a few cigarette lighters, and then Kowalcyzk alone singing the band’s latest attempt at writing a sappy tearjerker, “Overcome.” During the song’s last lines, Kowalcyzk literally wrapped himself in an American flag. (Read Soundbytes review of Live’s new album)

Jane’s Addiction took the stage around 9:45 p.m., easing into the carnival-like show with the simmering trance of “Kettle Whistle.” Skirting the melody, guitarist Dave Navarro (also an alum of the Red Hot Chili Peppers) played a Gibson Les Paul that mimicked a sitar. Farrell, wearing a white, billowy dress large enough to be a parachute, sang as a handful of dancers sprouted from underneath the fabric to adore him.

The two-hour concert was a rock’n’roll spectacle with an elaborate stage set, a troupe of jugglers and barely-clothed dancers, and several platforms scattered across the arena floor.

Farrell was the concert’s ringmaster. In Las Vegas fashion, he changed outfits frequently; one minute he was dressed like a Chippendale’s dancer in red tuxedo pants, then he was a pimp with a dark-colored, wide-brim hat; and later, a rhinestone-sparkling cowboy with a Davy Crockett coon-skin cap.

He spent most of his time grandly gesturing and darting across the stage. As he sang, he’d stiffen up as if he was being electrocuted by the thunderous music. His shriek got hoarse at moments, but he howled his way through it.

Monstrous songs like “Ocean Size,” “Ain’t No Right,” and “Stop” tore through the crowd, which was subdued most of the night. While Navarro unleashed avalanches of echo-y guitar, the band hammered down an ear-splitting groove.

This was undoubtedly assisted by new bassist, Martyn LeNoble. Although the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea was tapped for the “Relapse, ” his playing was flamboyant in comparison to Avery’s precise attack. LeNoble, who’s manned the low-end for the Cult, Thelonious Monster and Farrell’s post-Jane’s project, Porno For Pyros, is a better fit.

The lovely swells of “Summertime Rolls” gave the band members a chance to take a cigarette break as dancers roamed the stage in fish-net stockings and showgirl headdresses. Before Farrell revealed his softest croon, two dancers wheeled out a giant see-saw, which the singer caressed like a magician presenting the latest contraption that he’ll escape from.

After “Summertime Rolls,” the band headed backstage and reappeared at a small stage located behind the soundboard in the center of the arena. Although the aim of this was to give people in the back a close-up view of the group, the low turn-out meant that no one was sitting in those sections of the arena.

This portion of the show was reserved for slower songs, “Classic Girl and “Jane Says.” Their rendition of “Jane Says” was near identical to the “Relapse” version, and showcased drummer Stephen Perkins on steel drums and impromptu backup vocals.

The show’s momentum was almost lost when Navarro and Farrell took turns leading the band through a couple of songs from their solo records. Navarro’s raspy voice lacked Farrell’s force of personality on his tune, “Hungry.” The techno-influenced, “Happy Birthday Jubilee,” from Farrell’s solo album, was absent a discernable groove.

Once back at the main stage, the group firmly reestablished themselves with “Up The Beach.” Navarro’s guitar breaks were searing, but faithful to the album version.

The ferocious “Mountain Song” (with its appropriate chant of “cash in now”) followed. Next, Farrell dove into his epic treatise on sex, violence, culture and the media, “Ted, Just Admit It.” Although the band was out of step at times, Navarro’s crashing riffs answered Farrell’s lyrical imagery. The song climaxed with Farrell screaming and sailing through the air on a spinning, two-person swing that he shared with a dancer dressed like a topless Little Bo Peep .

For an encore, the band dug out “Chip Away,” the closing track on the group’s indie album. The song, which has Farrell howling to a barrage of tribal drumming by the band members, proved anticlimactic.

As most of the band made a quick exit, only Farrell stayed at the lip of the stage, basking in the applause. (Later that night, Farrell reported to The Quest, a Minneapolis club, to spin some records as his D.J. alter ego, D.J. Peretz.) The crowd’s cheers were a moment of vindication for Farrell, whose recording career has remained spotty without Jane’s. It was testimony that despite his past musical missteps, he can still recreate the magic of Jane’s Addiction onstage.

In one of the night’s most poignant moments, Farrell held his arms high in the air, shaking them triumphantly. His broad smile was clear even from clear across the arena.

“It feels good,” he said.

Jane’s Addiction “Jubilee” Tour Dates:

  • Oct. 26, Mountain View, Calif.
  • Oct. 27, Los Angeles
  • Oct. 28, Chula Vista, Calif.
  • Oct. 31, Denver, Colo.
  • Nov. 3, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  • Nov. 4, Portland, Ore.
  • Nov. 5, Bosie, Idaho
  • Nov. 7, Seattle
  • Nov. 9, Phoenix
  • Nov. 10, Las Vegas
  • Nov. 11, Las Vegas

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Note: David’s nationally syndicated music column, Soundbytes, appeared in the Entertainment section of all Internet Broadcasting websites. This column was originally published there.

©Copyright 2001 by David Hyland. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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