A band like Jane's Addiction doesn't need to play a music festival like South By Southwest. But sometimes SXSW needs a Jane's Addiction. The band — with its recently reunited full original lineup — performed a not-so-secret 10-song set at a former supermarket off an Austin highway Thursday night. It was both an affirmation of their enduring artistic power and a self-conscious wink at the magnetism of the rock star.
As if reminding the crowd that bassist Eric Avery is back in the band, Jane's kicked off with the audacious, eight-minute-plus "Three Days," which begins with one of their most ominous and memorable basslines. Frontman Perry Farrell alternately slithered and flounced around the stage, drummer Stephen Perkins pounded his set in a tidy mohawk, guitarist Dave Navarro strutted around shirtless and sweating, and Avery paced in circles. With the crowd fist-pumping and screaming along to every lyric, Farrell ended "Three Days" with his arm slung around Navarro. Losing his neckerchief and jacket, Farrell led the way into "Ain't No Right" before announcing "Lovely to see all you whores out there" as way of introducing "Whores" from the band's 1987 debut. (Check out photos of Jane's long and winding career in A Brief History of Jane's Addiction.)
The band didn't play a a single song recorded after 1990, but every snaking melody and blast of volume sounded captivating and fresh. (Half of their set came from 1988's Nothing Shocking, with four more tunes originating on 1990's Ritual de lo Habitual.) Navarro tossed off virtuostic solos effortlessly, sucking down cigarettes while executing some of his most nimble fingerwork, rarely glancing down at his own hands. (Navarro the guitar hero is a far more agreeable guise than Navarro the reality-TV star or Navarro the porn director). Farrell tossed his head back and swung his arms to the side, grinning mischievously, when he wasn't nailing notes in his soaring upper register. Part of Jane's power has always been their musicianship, and the band still executed perfect pauses with stunning aplomb. Neither the songs nor the band felt as if they had aged two decades.
Farrell danced up to Navarro at the end of "Standing in the Shower Thinking" and punctuated every word of "Ted, Just Admit It..."; the song's lyrics ("Camera got them images/camera got them all/nothing's shocking" seemed especially poignant 21 years after its original recording, as dozens of digitals and phones tracked the band's every move. "We came here to deliver," Farrell proclaimed before the set-closer "Mountain Song," another track built around one of Avery's sinewy lines. With their backdrop of LEDs and knowing nods to the duties of rock stardom (both Navarro and Farrell paused to pose for photos mid-song), Jane's Addiction didn't just deliver a dramatic, stellar set — they delivered on swagger and savvy too, a combination young bands at SXSW could definitely use more of.
"Ain't No Right"
"Standing in the Shower Thinking"
"Ted, Just Admit It..."
"Been Caught Stealing"
"Had a Dad"