Rock is at its best when it's unpredictable. And in that regard, Jane's Addiction's sold out set Sunday at Metro (the second of a two night stand) may just be the most "rock 'n' roll" show that I've seen all year.
(A big thanks to fellow ChicagoNow blogger Barry Brecheisen who shoots great photos of live music... like the one he graciously lent me of Jane's Addiction at Metro that you see above... Check out Barry's work at Eye Tunes or at his website)
Perry Farrell, Dave Navarro, Stephen Perkins and Chris Chaney are touring in support of the Tuesday release of their unlikely fourth studio album The Great Escape Artist.
This is a band that simply wasn't supposed to be around by 2011. Long the symbol of rock excess, the band arrived at Metro on Sunday (an intimate appearance for Jane's and one of only a handful of U.S. tour dates the band currently has booked) with a show that featured lights, lasers, strobes and confetti powerful enough to fill an arena... plus two strippers (in various states of undress and bondage throughout the night).
What continues to amaze me as I think back on the show is the band's ability to keep everything on the tracks just as it seemed there was a damn good chance it could careen violently off of them.
By the end of the show, Perry Farrell had consumed the better part of two bottles of wine (he shared with the audience) and at times his rants (about facebook and twitter, a lack of love from his mother and of course the women in the crowd that he wanted to... get to know a bit better) grew increasingly nonsensical. Early on, one couldn't help but wonder where the concert was headed.
But that singing...
At 52, Perry sounds as good now as he ever has and absolutely sings his heart out during every song. The band tunes down a bit live to save his voice but there's no denying how good he still sounds. His energy knows no bounds and he remains one of rock's true frontmen (a rarity in this day and age).
Dave Navarro, at 44, remains not only one of rock's most underrated guitarists but a virtual Adonis onstage (one need only watch the women worship him at the foot of the stage at the conclusion of the show, adulation he rewarded with passes).
Jane's Addiction opened the show with a new take on an old track. "Whores" originally appeared on their self-titled, debut live album in 1987 but was finally given a proper studio recording session for release on the 2009 Nine Inch Nails/Jane's Addiction tour EP, NINJA. The fact that the band delivered the song (with lyrics like "I love them whores they never judge you" and "Wanna see me go off, give me some more") while flanked by two strippers, as Farrell drank wine straight from the bottle, should've given anyone still unsure a pretty good inclination of where the night was headed. Following "Whores" was an impressive reaction from the crowd to the band's 2003 reunion single "Just Because" and the first of Navarro's many flashy solos on the night (solos he often concluded by leaping off of the drum riser).
This was the drunkest crowd I've seen in a long time. I go to a lot of concerts. I expect drunken stupidity and have no problem with that aspect of the concertgoing experience. But this crowd was on a different level. People literally couldn't walk. It probably didn't help that the Wrigleyville bars were full for the Bears game before emptying out down the street to Metro. Fittingly, it was during "Then She Did" when Farrell pulled a girl up onstage who immediately proceeded to flash the audience before molesting Navarro as he fired off another solo (which for the record he seemed entirely unfazed by. Something tells me it has happened to him before).
"Ocean Size" was a great example of the band's continued ability to weave several different musical styles, seamlessly crafting a sound completely their own. Following a brief detour into Pink Floyd's "Breathe," the song combined Navarro's thrashing guitar with Chaney's funky bassline to create something that sounds as fresh in 2011 as it did when it was released in 1988.
Two songs from The Great Escape Artist ("End to the Lies" and "Irresistible Force") were played and fit right into the set without bringing it to a halt. But it was on the older material where the band shined. And credit Jane's Addiction for delivering that throughout just under an hour and a half set on Sunday. "Let's get down with some [frickin'] debauchery around here!" encouraged Farrell aptly as Chaney began the bassline to "Three Days." The song veered frantically back and forth between frenetic solos and atmospheric notes as Perry told his dark story. It featured Navarro's finest guitar work of the evening.
While "Idiots Rule" provided the only real momentary lull of the night (Hawaiian shirt clad trumpeter Willie Waldman looked as if he'd be more comfortable as a member of the Coral Reefer Band), the band immediately picked things back up with "Mountain Song" before finishing the main set with a ridiculously good version of "Stop" that saw the band take a page from the Flaming Lips' book performing amidst confetti so thick it was tough to see the stage.
The band returned acoustic for what was obviously going to be an evening ending version of "Jane Says"... until Dave Navarro started strumming the opening to "Gallows Pole" on his acoustic guitar. Farrell immediately quit his story mid-tangent for a cool, impromptu Led Zeppelin cover before eventually finishing with a full crowd sing along on "Jane Says" (with Perkins on steel drum).
In an era where rock has become stale, staged, overly rehearsed and nothing's shocking, it was a very pleasant surprise to see that there is still a band out there capable of staging a true rock 'n' roll show.