[From this week's Village Voice.]
If you weren't around back then, you can't know, because history's been written by the indie kids. But trust me: Grunge ruined everything. Music stopped rocking in 1992, becoming earnest unto death. Modern-rock radio still hasn't shrugged off the pernicious, debilitating influence of sensitive males Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder. But there was a time, only a year or two before all the Seattleites came along and drizzled on the party, when alternative rock had balls and wasn't afraid to show 'em to you on an album cover. Jane's Addiction was one of the last truly-larger-than-life rock bands: horny, drug-addled, and transcendent. Their full-length debut, 1988's Nothing's Shocking, mixed pastoral prog, acoustic balladry, heavy-footed funk, and raw metal. Two years later, they released one of the greatest rock albums of the 1990s, Ritual de lo Habitual. Less polished but even more brilliant, it offered two massive epics, three mosh-pit anthems, an actual hit song, and another heart-stopping ballad. Then they headlined frontman Perry Farrell's inaugural Lollapalooza tour, which brought a nation of freaks out into the summer sun. Then they left.
They tried to come back a few times, but without original bassist Eric Avery's ocean-sized throb to complement Farrell, guitarist Dave Navarro, and drummer Stephen Perkins, they were lost. Sure, they brought in Flea for some tour dates, but his hard slap was the opposite of Avery's caress. And that guy who played on 2003's misbegotten Strays—did he even have a name? Well, now Avery's back in the fold, and the band's touring with Nine Inch Nails, just like they did in '91. They're also celebrating their past with a three-CD, one-DVD box set, A Cabinet of Curiosities.
The first two discs offer 20 demos, covering almost every track from the band's two Warner Bros. albums, plus a few songs never recorded in final form. (The demos reveal a remarkable discipline; they're nearly identical to the album versions.) Also included are some live cuts and compilation tracks, including a version of the Grateful Dead's "Ripple" and a duet take on Sly & the Family Stone's "Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey," featuring co-vocalist Ice-T and Body Count guitarist Ernie C. Not all this stuff is new, and the demos are far from revelatory, but diehards will be happy.
The DVD offers music videos, some performances from MTV Europe, and the band's first home video, Soul Kiss. The only thing missing is Gift, the 1990 movie Farrell directed, but he says Rhino plans to sell it separately—and he's even recorded a commentary track. The real treasure here, then—and something that should be carved out and sold separately—is the third CD, which contains a complete Hollywood Palladium concert from December 19, 1990. I happened to be in the audience—I've still got my ticket stub in a binder somewhere.
I'm not gonna lie and say vivid memories of the show came flooding back. But playback reveals one hell of a band, tearing it up at their peak in front of a rapturous hometown crowd. Some of Farrell's between-song dialogue has stayed in my head since that night—particularly his befuddled, bemused response to a fan throwing a Birkenstock sandal at him mid-song. "Nailed me right in the face," Farrell laughs now, by phone from Arizona. "Come to find out, years later, that was a guy I came to be friends with. A guy named Jock, who was a roughneck out of Venice Beach."
What didn't stick with me—I was busy in the pit—was the music itself, which is astonishing. The band enters to a tribal drum intro that builds into "Up the Beach," followed by two songs never recorded in the studio: "Whores" and "1%." The remainder of the 75-minute set covers all the best tracks from both albums, including a 12-minute version of "Three Days," and noisy, jagged run-throughs of "Stop!" and "Mountain Song," finishing up with an almost Sabbathian version of "Ocean Size."
It's easy to wonder if Farrell and company will be able to live up to the band's live reputation 19 years later. His recently broken leg probably won't help matters, either. "It's getting better," he says. "I have a boot that I wear in the day, and I just take it for a walk onstage for about 70 minutes, and then I'm back in the boot. And they gave me some good meds, so—the meds help a lot." Pharmaceuticals in place of hallucinogenics: Times sure have changed.
Farrell is not the only one who has matured since Jane's first split in 1991, after the inaugural Lollapalooza tour wound down. "When we got together at first, two of the guys were teenagers," he says. "And they've gone through a lot in their lives, and Eric has gone through a lot in his life, and he's changed a lot and is a much different person than when I first met him. So I understand why everybody has trepidations about getting back together, because they've settled into their lives as grown-up adults, and they're not . . . I wanna say that they probably wouldn't have called their band Jane's Addiction today—do you know what I'm getting at? So I understand why certain people might not wanna get involved again with this particular group. But you know, we are all adults, and we're working very hard to make everybody feel comfortable and feel good about participating and playing."
Avery is a major selling point of this reunion tour, something Farrell understands completely. His liquid bass sound made the group what it was for many fans. "I think if you wanna hear the authentic players in every band, I think it's crucial," the singer agrees. "Don't you miss Bill Wyman? Don't you miss David Gilmour? Look at the last Van Halen tour. Eric is crucial—he's as crucial as Stephen Perkins, he's as crucial as Dave Navarro."
Still, it took an external nudge to make it happen. "I haven't been in touch with Eric," Farrell says. "For 12 years, I hadn't spoken to him. What really happened was, I was invited by NME, the British music magazine, to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award and perform 'Jane Says' acoustically. And I didn't feel right about accepting an award without inviting everyone to come and join me." The full band ended up performing four songs, at which point, in Farrell's words, "We all kinda came to our senses. It just seemed like, 'No time like the present.' Everybody was in a good place to kind of reunite and meet each other all over again and see if they could work with each other as adults."
For the moment, everyone's doing exactly that, and Farrell seems really happy. "This year, we're getting back on our feet, trying to make everything work—if you know what I'm talking about, monetarily and everything. We have amazing lights, and we have an amazing video presentation, and we're gonna build from there."
"It's been great going out here," he continues. "I tell you, the country really loves us and misses us. We're bringing some good vibes and people are getting to relive some memories that were probably locked away for a long time."