Jane’s Addiction at The Forum in London on 13 June 2016. (Imelda Michalczyk)
This show was set to be special, as Jane’s Addiction played seminal album Ritual de lo Habitual in full. The title’s literal translation, obvious to even the most linguistically challenged, is Rituals of the Habitual, put differently, Everyday Sacred Ceremonies. A wise choice to guarantee gig-going satisfaction. Although frequently named one of rocks most influential bands, by the likes of Tool, The Smashing Pumpkins and Korn, they are a band who have acquired very few new fans from the younger generations. With only two albums following Ritual de lo Habitual, Strays (2003) and The Great Escape Artist (2011), which both underperformed dramatically, commercially and critically.
The recorded album opens with an announcement in Spanish, a warning, which roughly translated means “Ladies and Gentlemen, we have more influence on your children than you do, but we want them.” The crowd tonight are those children grown up, now for the most part grey haired, a little plumper and probably with children of their own.
The announcement goes on to introduce the band, “Created and nurtured from Los Angeles… Jane’s Addiction…” That’s what they are. A pure spirit of LA band representing all of the cultures and influences of that crazy melting pot; Hispanic elements, rock and roll, funk, dreamy Californian melodies, and made them favourites of surf punks and alt-scene kids of the 80’s and 90’s. It seemed only fitting that the first people on a scaffolding platform stage were three scantily clad glamour dancers, among them Perry Farrell‘s wife Etty Lau, to create a stage show reminiscent of the sleazy-cool heydays of the Sunset Strip and evoke seedy nights at the Whisky a Go Go.
Arriving in a swirling mist of the smoke machine, Perry Farrell appeared to be a perfectly preserved version of his younger self, causing me to wonder if he was now a poster boy for clean living or if the liquor and drugs lifestyle had pickled him in his own juices? Farrell still oozes charisma and sex appeal in 2016, dressed in a Spanish bolero jacket and hat accented with sparkling glam accessories his costume gave his movements a liquid quality.
If Perry Farrell is the vocal force of Jane’s Addiction, then Dave Navarro is the musical star. Opening song Stop gave Navarro a perfect opportunity to do some classic shredding and posturing. The dancers gyrated around the platform throwing shapes from the strip dance cannon; pony stepping, twerking and back-bending to whip the crowd into a frenzy. That is, as much of a frenzy as a legion of middle-aged folk can manage. Back in the day this song would have generated a mosh pit faster than you can say “go”, now the audience seemed content to shout along through the blur of music picking out every nuanced lyric at full volume, just like Dad’s singing along to the radio in the car. Perry Farrell will not be stopped, however, and he still has the will to get his groove on, hip-shaking, shimmying and air-punching his way effortlessly through the next three powerhouse tracks of No One’s Leaving and Ain’t No Right and Obvious.
Soon up was the crowd-pleasing favourite, best selling single and regular feature of indie and alt discos since 1990, Been Caught Stealing. This booty shaking number saw Farrell and Navarro playing a back a forth game of twang and wail, pick and scat, amicably echoing each other’s variation with Farrell smiling broadly after every round.
Following the schedule of the album, the dancers return for Three Days a sultry meditation on sex, romance and relationship dynamics in the setting of a ménage a trois. Let’s just say, the dancers gave a somewhat literal interpretation of the lyrics. This song provided the perfect segue from Navarro’s melodic and squealing guitar riffs to the slower, drifting Then She Said.
The penultimate album track, Of Course, created a distinct change of pace with the familiar Romany-style violin, in this case piped in not played live, and mock folk dancing from Farrell. To illustrate the lyrics a character arrived on the platform who can only be described as an animal-horned-Viking-male contemporary dancer. Possibly someone plucked from the audience at Farrell’s famous touring festival Lollapalooza. Concluding the song, Farrell seemed to give bass player Chris Chaney tender kisses on the mouth.
The album set finished with the love song Classic Girl, a number which is many a pre-Millenial couples’s ‘our song’. Memorably, the original video for this song featured an intimate and touching Santería-style wedding ceremony between Farrell and then muse and girlfriend Casey Niccoli. This performance, however featured Farrell’s now wife performing an entirely different type of ritual with another female dancer.
After the expected encore fake out rite, the band returned to stomp out Bowie’s Rebel Rebel. A fitting tribute to one whose fluid sexuality, exquisite stage presence and musical influence was shared in part by Perry Farrell. Farrell is still an outsider, an original who beamed at the audience between songs seeming grateful for these moments of acceptance and adoration.
What followed were additional greatest hit highlights of Just Because, and the thundering metal classic Mountain, which saw drummer Stephen Perkins throw his whole weight behind the beat making a case of post-gig hearing loss inevitable. A slightly strange choice of encore tune was Ted, Just Admit It from the album Nothing’s Shocking. This track did get brief recognition thanks to its inclusion on the soundtrack for 1994 film Natural Born Killers. This swirling mix of dub and psychedelia gave Farrell a chance to manipulate his vocals in a rant about fake people and the horrors of modern life, prescient lyrics in today’s world.
As a finale to wrap up the show, we were treated to the gentle anthem to poor self esteem, Jane Says. What may have originally been a song written as an observation about a person in a time and a place has become a strangely fitting metaphor for the band. The lives of outrageous extroverts with high risk sex and drugs lifestyles whose driving motivation is a sense of unworthiness. It is fair to assume from Perry Farrell’s grinning face, his gratitude and his warmth to a worshipping audience, that in exchange for reliving the music of their youth, he too was transported to his own personal glory days.
Long may we all keep that feeling. As he says in his own lyrics, “I am skin and bones, I am pony nosed, but it mutherf**kin’ makes me try!” and, succeed.
Review by Sarah Sievers and photography by Imelda Michalczyk.
Jane’s Addiction played Ritual de lo Habitual, O2 Forum Kentish Town 13th June 2016.