At their best, a Jane's Addiction performance is about much more than music, as frontman Perry Farrell tests his philosophy that "nothing's shocking" as often as possible. He is a ringmaster of the epic and perverse, orchestrating scenes and oddities onstage to accompany the endless rock & roll sideshow the band has perfected since the 1980s, and did so again Friday at an intimate but packed show at the Roxy in West Hollywood, California.
It was another local gig for the Los Angeles act, and the longest hometown show yet with new bassist Duff McKagan (formerly of Guns n' Roses and presumably still of Velvet Revolver). But the night began with a redheaded fetish performer named Miss Crash, who did a partial striptease and pierced her face and tongue with long, scary needles. It was a mild appetizer for what was to come.
Crash and another tattooed woman were suddenly hoisted above the stage from piercings clamped through the flesh of their backs, as a rear curtain fell and Jane's Addiction leapt to the stage to erupt with a delirious "Whores," an early song from the band's history. Swinging and kicking their high-heels, the women dangled above the band like decadent jewelry, as guitarist Dave Navarro gave one a shove to send her flying again for a panicked "Ain't No Right."
The 450-capacity Roxy was an appropriate setting for the band, as the club where Jane's recorded its first album release in 1987, the live Jane's Addiction. And watching from the VIP section was Billy Corgan, returning the favor of Farrell's visit to a Smashing Pumpkins show on the Strip just days earlier. The hour-long Jane's show was part of the BING Sunset Strip Concert Series.
The band's best-known radio hit, "Been Caught Stealing," was still tense and urgent, with a stretched out rhythm break from drummer Stephen Perkins and McKagan. During "Had a Dad," Perkins shook his Mohawk of blond curls as Farrell raised a wine bottle and leaned into Navarro during a rippling guitar solo, a cigarette burning between the guitarist's lips. For "Ted, Just Admit It . . ." Farrell stood above the crowd with arms wide open to lead the front rows in shouting the hypnotic opening mantra, "Everybody, everybody, everybody, everybody, everybod-ay-yey-yey-yey . . ."
Two months ago at the nightclub Bardot in Hollywood, Jane's revealed one new song ("Soulmate"), while Friday's Roxy set was built entirely from tunes first recorded by the original quartet by 1990. Old songs remain the backbone of the Jane's repertoire, with lyrics streetwise and impressionistic, and music of underground intensity and Zeppelin-scale ambition, while new material has yet to fully assert itself during the band's periodic reunions (though Friday's set list was originally to include 2003's "Superhero").
Jane's has always reconvened easily as a great live act, delivering on a grand scale from Coachella to Lollapalooza, but less so as makers of new songs to match their history. They continue to work at it, with a new album in the planning stages. A short-lived reunion with founding bassist Eric Avery last year made for some powerful live shows, but McKagan is no hired hand, and Farrell says the bassist has taken a direct role in songwriting for a new Jane's album.
Onstage, the renewed band already sounds engaged and ready to grow. "Many of you remember how great that music scene in L.A. used to be," Farrell told fans late in the show, smiling wickedly as he recounted the label bidding wars that wined and dined Jane's Addiction decades ago. "I don't keep track, I just keep going."
"Ain't No Right"
"Had A Dad"
"Ted, Just Admit It . . ."
"Been Caught Stealing"