An itchy sensation, singing the words “Picture everybody naked and disfigured” out loud among a sea of sweaty men who are also singing those words out loud. Jane’s Addiction has always aimed for provocative and discomforting, and last night’s sold-out performance at Showbox Sodo got there, with that particular twinge from “Ted, Just Admit It…” abetted by a pair of latex-thonged female dancers writhing across the stage. Mostly though the show was a well-executed nostalgia trip: As advertised, Jane’s played the entirety of Nothing’s Shocking, the 1988 studio debut that sparked their rise to alt-rock superstardom. But as brilliant as the source material is, and as foundational as Jane’s Addiction was to rock’s early-’90s evolution, last night fell short of transcendent.
“Mountain Song,” “Summertime Rolls,” “Jane Says”—by any serious reckoning, these are iconic songs in the rock n’ roll cannon. (Fans like me might argue that Ritual de lo Habitual, the follow-up to Nothing’s Shocking, is the stronger album, but.) On record they feel as potent today as they did 20 years ago and last night’s renditions were expert, ferocious, zipper-tight. Dave Navarro, shirt abandoned two songs in, nailed every lick and solo; Stephen Perkins thundered on drums, one of the true gods of the instrument swathed in a cloud of legal-weed smoke; replacement bassist Chris Chaney achieved profound low-end boom; Perry Farrell sang with voice louche and boyish and druggy. Farrell accepted joints from the front row, sauntering around the stage like an oversexed panther in a carnival barker’s top hat, offering the mike to the audience almost as often as he held it to his mouth.
“Feels good to rock n roll!” he said after “Had a Dad.” “Just like the old days!” And indeed a mosh-pit percolated in front of the stage and the occasional crowd-surfer lurched overhead. Farrell shouted out Mother Love Bone and Chris Cornell. He brought out his half-naked dancers by saying “We like strong women!” Just like the old days.
And that’s the problem: Nostalgia cannot be transcendent. Its charms are also its limitations. Performing the album note-for-note was impressive but far from inspired; it was in fact the opposite. The full-album performance was perfect, every crescendo triumphant and predictable. Navarro went wild during “Mountain Song” but his improvised solo may very well have been scripted. Only after finishing Nothing’s Shocking could they surprise the crowd with a few songs from Ritual de lo Habitual and only on “Three Days” did the band stray away from the album version. The album experience does not and should not equal the concert experience. The two conflated was less than the sum of their parts.
There also may have been a perception gap between band and audience. Given his overarching aesthetic, Perry Farrell probably believes he presides over a teeming throng of social deviants, men and women of ambiguous sexuality and gender and morals. But the crowd was easily 95% 40-year-old white guys in t-shirts. Whatever freakshow he ringlead during the Lollapalooza years—the original Lollapalooza, the travelling-circus Lollapalooza—is long gone. It’s grown up and balding and kinda drunk and it leaves its wives and girlfriends at home to go see the show. It records way too much of the concert on its smartphone. It’s well past the old days.
The sound inside the Showbox was phenomenal. The band was truly great. I sang along with every song and I raved about the concert afterward. But somehow now it feels like just another notch on my timeline.