Music News

Ocean Size

Jane's Addiction, and Goldie
Mesa Amphitheatre
December 4, 1997

Most of the time, Perry Farrell talks like he's a hippie, or at least on mushrooms. "How does it feel to be outside, with the ceiling so high?" he asked aloud, eyes gazing aloft in wonder, two songs into Jane's Addiction's sold-out show in Mesa. The answer? A bit chilly, actually. Nighttime temperatures during the show were in the mid-40s. The concert itself, however, was anything but frigid. Farrell, guitarist Dave Navarro, drummer Stephen Perkins and some new guy on bass quickly got the capacity crowd up, and then got it off, over and over again.

After a ponderous, post-Goldie set break, the lights went down, and the eerie whirls and moans of a didgeridoo heralded the show's arrival--further evidence of Perry Farrell hippiedom. The stage lights blossomed, and there was Farrell, standing on a platform in the middle, with musicians on both sides and dancing girls in the wings. He was styled like Jesus Christ Superstar, sporting some sort of white, caped, court-jester outfit, complemented with a Medusa 'do of gravity-defying, magenta-tipped pigtails.

First the band teased by playing just the intro to "Summertime Rolls," which segued into "Ocean Size." Opening with "Ocean" gave Farrell the chance to screech "3, 4" like a banshee, right off the bat, and let everyone know he wasn't going to be fucking around. Which was a relief, because with something like a Jane's Addiction reunion tour, there are bound to be some questions. But Perry Farrell looked strong and didn't sing like a junkie, and Jane's Addiction didn't play like a band just cashing in on its name.

Fill-in bassist Flea looked like he was having a hell of a good time--and, Christ, why not?--but his performance was one of the least remarkable parts of the show. There was no problem. He nailed all of his parts, and even pulled off a couple of minor but tasty solo flourishes. But the interplay between him and Perkins was a relatively poor substitute for the rhythm-section sorcery Perkins used to cook up with original Jane's bassist Eric Avery, who declined Farrell's invitations to make the reunion tour complete. Perkins alone was still a treat. If you haven't seen Jane's Addiction live, you probably haven't realized what a fantastic drummer he is.

Navarro tried to share the spotlight with Farrell as much as possible, affecting a glowering stage presence, smoking cigarettes with great flair, and striking more than a few power-chord poses with his ax. Maybe it was payback time for the Red Hot Chili Peppers show last year at America West Arena, where Navarro languished in a dark corner while Flea hopped around up front like a stoned monkey.

In any case, Navarro's allowed to indulge himself, because he shreds. The guy's just a monster when he throws those massive, metallic hooks around, and several times he lighted up the night with carefully aimed tracers of feedback. Navarro came up in mid-'80s L.A., remember--he's one of the last true guitar gods. And quite the provocateur. Navarro played shirtless, his wiry, swarthy flame rippling with muscle, wearing a black skirt, fishnet stockings and lots of black mascara. In Mesa, that's downright progressive, if not quite a hanging offense.

Farrell took it one step further, playing the deliberate, mischievous scofflaw. During a blistering version of Ritual De Lo Habitual's hard funk, red-light/green-light opener "Stop," Farrell interrupted the "goddamn radio" a cappella passage toward the end--and the crowd, which was chanting along--with the announcement, "Wine break!" He then grabbed a bottle of Bordeaux off a speaker cabinet and took a draft with gusto. Hey, now, son--that's a violation of Arizona state law.

Later, after wrapping up a hypnotic, sinuous version of Jane's longest song, "Three Days," Farrell asked someone in front of the mosh pit--over the mike, of course--"Is that a joint?" It was, and Farrell got down on all fours to lean over the barricade and take a hit. The crowd roared. It was shameless.

Not as shameless, however, as the troupe of exotic dancers--neotribal vixens, the lot of them--that alternately shimmied and writhed in ecstasy at Farrell and Navarro's feet during "Three Days" (Flea didn't get any), then simulated a variety of bachelor-party lesbian sex acts. Nothing's shocking, indeed. Keep in mind this was still in Mesa, a land where cops shut down rock concerts for public lewdness. But Farrell and Co. got away with it in front of several thousand people. Ha-ha.

"Beauty," Farrell said, earlier in the evening, in one of his characteristic, street-philosopher asides. "You can't take that shit with you. Money. You can't take that shit with you. Where we're going--let's sing to praise to it, here and now." Which could be taken to mean that Farrell believes red wine, ganja, half-naked dancing girls and rock 'n' roll are all good things--please bring more.

Unfortunately, The Man cracked down on the glorious high weirdness via Mesa's abhorrent concert curfew on shows at the municipal amphitheater: 10 p.m. on weeknights. Ouch. Jane's didn't even take the stage until shortly before 9, and rushed to get its last couple of numbers in under the wire. Dynamite songs that, for whatever reason, didn't make the cut for Mesa's playlist included "Mountain Song" (which would have really showcased Navarro's war-hammer guitar work), "Had a Dad," and, most lamentable, "Been Caught Stealing."

The band also did not play an encore. Which is not to say the show had no finale. After "Three Days," the band disappeared from the stage, Farrell instructing the dancers to "Do your thing," only to reappear a minute later out in the audience. Like title-fight boxers headed for the ring, the band members made their way through the throngs, flanked by security, and ascended the scaffolding to a smaller, acoustic stage in the middle of the amphitheater's grass, festival section, which had been dark until a few seconds before. Farrell arrived on the stage puffing on a second joint someone had bestowed upon him on the way. "This is delicious," he said, holding it aloft for all to see. "Delicious, delicious. Thank you so much."

Once in place, the band played a three-song acoustic set--including a gorgeous "Jane Says," with Navarro playing an Ovation 12-string and Perkins going native with two bongos and a steel drum. Farrell's vocals were strong all night--they're always nasal and scratchy, but he makes it work if he gets into it, and his vocals on "Jane Says" were nearly perfect--naked and fearless. He and Navarro performed in the round on the small stage, and fans who just a few minutes before had been kicking it on the lawn, well away from the action, suddenly found they had a killer seat.

At the close of the acoustic set, Farrell politely asked the crowd to let the band make its way quickly back to the main stage. "We're going to try and get back there in time to do one more song. It'll be an exercise in kindness." The one more song was "Nothing's Shocking," still one of the best rock songs of the '90s, even though it actually came out in 1988. The band stuck close to the recorded version until the final "sex is violence" wind-up, when Navarro threw down his guitar, creating massive waves of feedback, and scaled a 30-foot metal post to wave at the crowd and join two of the showgirls, who had dazzled the crowd with erotic, acrobatic feats throughout the song, and were now performing a vertical 69.

Thus concluded the best Big Rock Show to hit the Valley this year. In combined terms of spectacle, musicianship, style and power, Jane's Addiction blew away every other A-list touring act that's come through here recently--and that includes the Smashing Pumpkins, Bush, 311, et al., and especially the Rolling Stones, except for Keith Richards. Big-label American rock 'n' roll has been in pretty sorry-ass shape since Nirvana's last album. It could use a Jane's Addiction comeback. The band's performance left no doubt Jane's still has it, and the crowd response left no doubt people still want it, so here's hoping.

The Mesa Amphitheatre audience was testament to the wildly diverse fan base drawn to Jane's Addiction's funk/metal/alt-rock hybrid sound--and Farrell's early and continuing embracement of electronica (although it would have been nice if Farrell had hired a local DJ to spin records and keep the energy up during the set break instead of a lame tape of Jane's Addiction dance remixes). Everyone from bikers wearing "Support Your Local Red and White" hats to the skate-punk set to urban-chic club kids was in attendance.

In an ideal world, they would have all danced together to Goldie's opening set. Fat chance. The British jungle king and his minions faced a surly, "What the fuck is this shit!?" crowd of rockers staking out a place in the mosh pit, and beat a hasty retreat after performing the opening "Inner City Life" trilogy from his last album. A few ravers down front got into the cerebral beats--and the deep, fluttering bass lines came through the sound system with awesome clarity and force--but, for the most part, Goldie proved just a wee too abstract for a crowd that came to Rock.

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David Holthouse
Contact: David Holthouse