It is July 5, the opening night of the 1990s powerhouse festival's return to the national touring stage, and the sky is a greenish-gray, nothing new for folks in the storm belt of the Midwest. This green-hued sky, though, brings with it an unusual feel. The video screens tell patrons to prepare for an emergency situation, as if this is dire. In the post-September 11 era, danger is a sensitive prospect, as if uranium may be packed in the lightning bolts.
Almost on cue, winds whip through the grounds. As it turns out, the coming storm would last for several days, flooding parts of the state and making for big news on the cable channels.
At the amphitheater, though, the nasty weather, while it forces some lawn dwellers to seek shelter under the pavilion, doesn't detract from the crowd vibe. What Jane's Addiction wants -- has always wanted -- Jane's Addiction is getting anyway.
"I was really excited for that," says the effervescent Stephen Perkins, drummer for Jane's Addiction, the reuniting headliners, a few hours later. "It was an interesting way to start the tour."
During the 90-minute delay, the college-aged kids delight in the sideways rain, watching banners fall and sliding down the muddy lawn. Meanwhile, the bands that signed up for a dose of Lollapalooza spirit take to the stage to marvel at the clouds rolling overhead.
"It brought a lot of energy backstage," Perkins says in classic rock 'n' roll utopian tongues. "You know how a disaster will bring everyone on your street together? Well, this was a good family bonding experience."
The dynamic fits, as Jane's Addiction finds itself bonding again after years of sniping, drug abuse and rehabilitation, self-growth and risky side projects. In the intervening years, guitarist Dave Navarro ditched his one-record gig with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and cut a solo album. After second band Porno for Pyros dissolved, singer Perry Farrell noodled his way through a heavy-on-the-amateur-techno solo career, thankfully ditching it after two albums for this reunion. Perkins, meanwhile, traded his tribal drumming in Banyan and the sloppy electronica of Tommy Lee's Methods of Mayhem for his more hard-charging beat-keeping in Jane's Addiction. Once they made the pact to record again, the bandmates recruited Alanis Morissette's bassist Chris Chaney to join their ranks, replacing Eric Avery, who vowed long ago he wouldn't return -- and now works for Alanis.
The result of the band's newfound synergy is Strays, its first studio album since 1990's Ritual de lo Habitual and its most accessible work to date. Farrell, at his most rocking here, wails through the chorus of the searing, hedonistic single "Just Because." The new album kicks off with the groove-laden but lead-footed "True Nature," which in its stomp is an obvious follow-up to Nothing's Shocking's great "Mountain Song." Farrell also proves classically moody in power-ballady songs like "The Price I Pay."
"We're very proud of it. We had a good time making it. That's the beginning of being proud of it. It's people having fun," Perkins says of the record. "I think the trick with Jane's Addiction is making sure that four different personalities have four different things to say on each song. [Producer] Bob Ezrin taught us to cut the fat and focus. Jane's Addiction has always had four different personalities, and we bring that honesty to the table in the sessions. That's how you get that song that's polyrhythmic. Jane's has always had that dynamic -- the peaks and valleys that take you on a journey."
Perkins says he believes with the band's first three albums "somebody was documenting what we sounded like" already. He has a point. Jane's Addiction, released in 1987, was a live album. Nothing's Shocking a year later was the band's genre-defining studio debut; no playing around there. Ritual de lo Habitual, meanwhile, "was exactly what we sounded like in concert," according to Perkins.
"This time, we had to go in and find the songs, the tempo, how aggressive it should be and this and that," Perkins says as he continues his train of thought. "What was going to come out of us, we weren't sure. What was cool was we actually did some songs on tour with the [Red Hot Chili Peppers] in Korea and Japan. Those experiences went into the sounds as well," Perkins says.
Strays marked the first time Jane's Addiction worked with Ezrin, who had produced one song with Farrell and Perkins in Porno for Pyros. Working with a band as innately jagged as Jane's Addiction may be considered a bit of a departure for Ezrin, who in the '70s worked on such arena monoliths as Alice Cooper's Billion Dollar Babies, KISS' Destroyer and Pink Floyd's The Wall and in recent years has worked with alt-country pioneers Jayhawks, British retro band Kula Shaker and others.
"It was a whole year of hanging with him for the new Jane's album. He was there for every note," Perkins says of Ezrin. "All of us had been through many different experiences since the 1991 Jane's days. . . . To be in a studio with a producer like Bob was a great refreshing thing. In Jane's, we'll chase our tail on a part -- how it's perfect or not so perfect. Bob's the type who will go, It's perfect. Stop chasing your tail.'
"As a musician, he knows where to put the microphones and what gear to push. He did some great things for us," Perkins adds. "They were fun sessions -- more fun than any of the other records, except for [Jane's Addiction], but that was just a live show."
It's always fun, too, when everyone is on speaking terms. At the time of Ritual de lo Habitual, the band members were barely communicating. According to recently published reports, part of the tension stemmed from Farrell's anger at Avery for hitting on his then-girlfriend.
Things felt different for Strays, Perkins says. Without a record deal or a sniff of major-label interest in place, the members of the band paid for the recording on their own. That kept the project "pure," with nobody from a record label butting in, asking Jane's Addiction to change notes, lyrics, chords, etc., on the album, the drummer says.
"Nothing's Shocking was fun, but it was our first big money record," Perkins says. "We had different things on our mind." Sessions, he says, were frequently interrupted by representatives from Warner Bros., the band's former label. "It was a different kind of vibe."
The band didn't have to wait long after their sessions with Ezrin were completed to reenter the corporate fray, inking a deal with Capitol Records. Perkins says the band found that it had lost none of its chemistry on its extended hiatus and that teamwork remained king.
"As a drummer, my job is to make the pulse and the bounce, but also to be musical and dynamic. Jane's Addiction is the type of music that isn't dated," he says. "The lyrics hold up because Perry cares about what he's singing."
Whether they analyze whores, pigs in Zen, money, sex or love, Perkins says, Farrell's lyrics are "honest." "That's why the album came out so good," he says. "The trick is capturing that energy when the red light is going. It's hard to catch that every one on CD. That's the trick of making a great record."
With an album in the can, the time eventually came to reapproach touring. The Jane's Addiction name, evidently, still carries mass weight, as the handful of bands it approached about hitting the road together all said yes. So, what the heck, why not resurrect Lollapalooza, which lost its alt-nation steam in the mid-'90s after booking Metallica and Snoop Dogg as headliners in successive years?
"It is a huge undertaking, but I think the time was right," says Perkins. "The music right now on the tour is this great West Coast movement of really intense musicians writing good songs. Queens [of the Stone Age] has the fuckin' coolest record. They really care about their instruments.
"People can get your music a month early on the Internet, so what are you going to do?" he ponders further. "Do live shows. They can't take that from you." (Coincidentally, A Perfect Circle will be performing in place of Queens of the Stone Age here in Phoenix.)
Nor can they cripple the right for these folks to be conscientious artists, another long-standing part of Lollapalooza, of course. In addition to the information booths from various advocacy organizations, Perkins says the fest has put a new emphasis on "alternative energy," which comes in handy when Mother Nature is ripping through your venue.
"The whole show [in Noblesville] was run on soy," he says. "We had the whole thing running on biodiesel. Information about that is there for people. That to me is exciting. There is information for you to take home if you want it. If you don't, you don't have to.
"It's always great to have good conversation, though."