Jane’s Addiction in Aspen for a relapse
December 24, 2009
ASPEN – Depending on whether you count a brief 1997 tour, Jane’s Addiction is in its third or fourth act since forming in Los Angeles in the mid-’80s. The latest incarnation, the first to feature the original lineup of singer Perry Farrell, guitarist Dave Navarro, drummer Stephen Perkins and bassist Eric Avery since 1991, did a stadium tour this past summer with Nine Inch Nails, another influential hard-rock band that dates back to the ’80s. The stretch of recent activity concludes with a concert on Thursday, Dec. 31 at Belly Up Aspen.
Anticipation seems to be running high for the show. On top of being New Year’s Eve, it is the band’s Aspen debut, although both Farrell and Navarro have appeared at the club in recent years with other projects. Tickets sold out quickly, even with a top price of $575 for reserved seats. It is the band’s last U.S. date for months, at least; the only touring plans are a series of shows in Australia (make-up dates for shows that were canceled due to an infection in Perkins’ elbow), and a string of concerts in South America. The Aspen show should not be dampened by the absence of Avery, who missed out on the years from 1991-’08. In his place is Chris Chaney, who was a member of the group’s second reunion, in the first half of this decade.
One has to wonder whether Jane’s Addiction can still deliver what they did when they first became a sensation. The albums “Nothing’s Shocking,” from 1988, and “Ritual de lo Habitual” two years later, both of which earned a place on Rolling Stones’ list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All-Time (number 309 and 453, respectively), and live performances that were wildly energetic without being choreographed, were designed to do nothing less than change the music industry. That mission, thanks in some part to Jane’s Addiction, has been accomplished. The current landscape of the music business would be unrecognizable to someone who fast-forwarded from the mid-’80s. The artificial hair-metal that Jane’s Addiction rebelled against died a quick death at the hands of alternative rock. Even Farrell, who turned 50 this past March, hints that some of the steam that drove Jane’s Addiction in the early days might have cooled down some.
“Things will always deteriorate, any movement,” Farrell said from his home in the Rustic Canyon neighborhood of Los Angeles. “It goes stale. People try to emulate it and it gets even more stale. It goes down.”
But there is always the possibility of rebirth. Farrell happens to mention Lollapalooza, the traveling rock festival he created in 1991, as a farewell tour for Jane’s Addiction. The tour, an artistic-minded event that mixed in politics and counter-culture with hard rock, was a quick success. Sure enough, it spawned copycats; in fact, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say it shifted the entire universe of rock-band tours. And just as surely, Lollapalooza itself slid downhill. Farrell himself abandoned the festival in 1996, and the 1998 tour was canceled. But in 2003 Farrell regrouped Jane’s Addiction, cranked up Lollapalooza, and in 2005 the event successfully repositioned itself as a two-day event in Chicago’s Grant Park.
Lollapalooza, which is signed to stay in Chicago through 2018, serves as an apt example that while movements inevitably descend, with perseverance and ingenuity they can also resuscitate. And Farrell seems the sort of person who is able to breathe additional life into an artistic venture. Like Jane’s Addiction.
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Farrell, who was born in New York City as Perry Bernstein, said the band was not put together with the intention of shaking up the music-business model. But it was a natural outgrowth of their artistic personalities. They drew on influences that were somewhat outside the mainstream – Farrell mentions Joy Division, the Sex Pistols, Roxy Music, the Clash. Above all, in making their noisy, aggressive music, they sought to come straight from the heart, without a glance at the charts that tracked radio play and album sales.
“Pop music is flat and soulless,” Farrell said, as though he were stating obvious facts. “I was so adverse to pop culture. It’s for the simple-minded, and we were never about that. We were true artists. With our music, you’re listening to a true-life story, not something just to sell a few more records.”
Farrell, who brought a similar high-minded approach to his other projects – Porno for Pyros, which had a major hit with the 1993 song “Pets,” and Satellite Party, an environmental-themed group that featured Farrell’s wife, singer-dancer Etty Lau, and which played its first full concert in Aspen during the 2007 Winter X Games – believes Jane’s Addiction made a mark on the music world. “I think Jane’s Addiction did a great part in carrying the legacy of good music,” he said. “You look at the groups who are doing something interesting, and I hope they tip their cap to us.”
When he realized that Jane’s Addiction was going to be popular as well as pure-minded, Farrell saw the potential conflict ahead. So Farrell kept himself largely out of the band’s music videos, to keep his distance from pop stardom.
“So I could still be one of the lads,” he said. “If you can’t watch and observe people, you’re too removed and can’t relate to people, you’ve lost a brush in your arsenal. You realize that, after a while, you’re going to be discovered, you just need to remember to stay close, to be able to travel the earth and remember where you came from in the first place. I don’t rest on my laurels, and that’s how I safeguard it.”
Farrell believes Jane’s Addiction has a fairly singular niche in music, as both an arena act and an art band. “We’re riding a very unique vehicle. We’re legendary, and we can reform,” he said.
And he believes that the band can add to that legacy. He and his mates are preparing to write songs for a new record. The key to forestalling a deterioration has been staying true to the original vision, a large part of which is focusing on live performances rather than record sales, and on picking up new, young fans, rather than playing only to the old fans.
“Musicians will always have a place to play on Friday and Saturday night, for people who want to get out and hear music – which is mostly people about 18 to 33. You have to keep music currency flowing to the public,” he said. “Those are the things I occupy myself with. And it has nothing to do with the recording of the music.”