Jane’s Addiction takes a swing and hits

by Ryan Snyder

“Cash in now, honey,” Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell boomed from beside an effects panel dedicated solely to recreating the concussive, voice-of-God vocal clout heard on his band’s late ‘80s alt-rock standard bearer Nothing’s Shocking. The lyrics from that simple but devastating headbanger “Mountain Song” are suggestive of the effects of coming down from heroin, but as Farrell as matured from arty provocateur to a shrewd elder of punk (seemingly without physically aging), the double entendre is implicit. Jane’s Addiction aren’t the only re-emergent American band originally caught in the ether between hair metal and grunge to collect on that very targeted nostalgia, but they may be the only ones who are still convincing in their bad-assery.

The band’s Tuesday, May 22 show at Memorial Auditorium in Raleigh was one of two North Carolina dates on their Theatre of the Escapists tour in support of their fourth album, and first since 2003, The Great Escape Artist. Given its intended place among wholly unadventurous modern-rock playlists, it’s not necessarily a bad record, but its overall tepidity is magnified compared to the first two Jane’s Addiction records.

Taking the stage to Pink Floyd’s “Welcome to the Machine” suggested the band’s creative intentions with it, as the leadoff number “Underground” was an arena-sized production complete with a pair of bondage babes in varying states of undress within the auditorium’s theatrical confines. Later on, a masked thespian took “Twisted Tales” into weird-for-weird’s-sake territory by abusing, breastfeeding and eventually hanging dolls before himself swinging from the stage supports. It was a peculiar digression from the litany of sing- and shout-alongs, but a careful and thankfully concise look into Farrell’s incurably deranged mind.

Flanked by guitar god Dave Navarro and new bassist Chris Chaney, with faithful drummer Stephen Perkins holding down the beat, Farrell demonstrated that Jane’s Addiction in 2012 isn’t merely a recreationist vehicle, content to regurgitate entire albums in order like some peers. Though the spidery, dreadlocked version of Farrell only lives on via YouTube, his charisma remains unmistakable and unencroachable, along with his expert ability to pepper a set with the off-the-cuff flavor evidenced on numerous bootlegs. Farrell absconded with an audience member’s fedora as he cantered about the stage throwing out jazz hands during “Been Caught Stealing” and later, in the middle of his second bottle of wine, poured them out a cup in thanks. He tossed out filthy banter and come-ons, even with his wife (one of the two dancers) just feet away. Both he and his wingman Navarro are in ridiculous shape — Farrell even more remarkably so at 53 — though he did at times resign himself to his effects board, lethargically wiggling like a bored old stripper.

The set list remained mostly static from night to night, though the interpretations were anything but boilerplate. Part of that feeling may have arisen from the intimate proximity of the smallish Memorial Auditorium, but the chaotic lighting, alien solos by Navarro (I’ll take him over Slash any day) and droning caterwauls by Farrell invigorated old familiars like “Ted, Just Admit It…” and “Up the Beach.” Spontaneity, as it was, also tends to be the outcome when a singer nears inebriation as Farrell was when he offered a toast as a prelude to the singer/songwriter portion of the evening that started with “Classic Girl.”

It was a given what was coming, however, as stagehands brought out chairs, lamps and some other bits of quasi-gothic d’cor, along with dragging a set of steel pans to the front of the stage, all while videos of children role-playing implied abuse with dolls played overhead to maintain a loosely unsettled vibe. “Jane Says” is derided by the anti-JA camp — and there seem to be many — as a tired relic of a band that peaked too early and limped back into the conversation. Yet, it’s gravity as a generational anthem approaches that of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” only its tribal breeziness makes its fatalistic themes far more digestible after decades of listens. It’s sad, yet hopeful, splendidly written, and the way Farrell still pours himself into its verses, it wouldn’t be shocking if things didn’t get a little dusty in there for some.

They closed on “Whores,” an old favorite that wasn’t treated with a proper recording until a few years ago, and the rowdy “Stop!,” the vocal breakdown of which was incoherently mumbled by the audience until getting to the “turn off that GODDAMN RADIO” bit. There’s nothing wrong with not remembering; it’s been a while for some. There’s no better time than now to get reacquainted, though.

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