Chemistry and the Birth of an “Alternative Nation”
Something special happens on a primal level, balanced between karma and chaos when the four original members of Jane’s Addiction take the stage together. It’s a rare occurrence. Since they broke up at the end of the first run of Lollapalooza, the original lineup has only reunited one time, to tour with Nine Inch Nails in 2008-2009. Any iteration of the band is fantastic, but when Eric Avery joins Perry Farrell, Dave Navarro, and Stephen Perkins on stage, the chemistry is undeniable. The band plays with an intensity and passion that is hard to describe. Hold on tight, things are gonna get real.
The Birth of a Genre
Alternative music is largely thought to have been born out of the LA punk scene in the early 80s. Perry Farrell coined the term “Alternative Nation” to mean “not mainstream.” Bands like The Cure, Pixies, Living Colour, Ministry, and Husker Du, along with the funk of Fishbone and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, helped to shape and define the time, and what would become the “Alternative” genre.
But none ventured quite so far down the psychedelic freak hole as Jane’s Addiction. The primal thunder of Stooges and Ramones, the trippy psychedelia of the Doors and Velvet Underground, the groove of Guns and Roses and Aerosmith, the swagger of Van Halen, the glam of New York Dolls, the gender-splitting darkness of The Cure, Bauhaus, and The Cult, all while dropping acid on the beaches of LA. They were also one of the first bands to blend elements of eastern philosophy into their lyrics. This helped to set them apart from the other hard rock bands that came before them and gave their music a unique flavor that was unlike anything else at the time. They helped to create a sound that had the aggression of hardcore, thrash, and metal, the freaky psychedelia of power pop, and surf-culture zen, and they did not give a single fuck. Ironically, in later years the genre that became known as “Alternative” turned out to be anything but…well, alternative.
The special sauce.
Perry Farrell’s unique voice, Eric Avery’s immense bass lines, Dave Navarro’s groove-driven guitar solos, and Stephen Perkins’ world-influenced percussion created an indelible mark on the music industry with ‘Nothing’s Shocking.’ I saw the video for Mountain Song while at Chicho’s Pizza in VA Beach during the summer of 1989 just as I graduated from college. Love at first listen, I couldn’t put my finger on who they sounded like, where they came from, why they were wearing leather, lipstick, and where did they get the freaky dreadlocks? All mysteries.
The first time I saw Jane’s Addiction was at the Boathouse on my birthday in 1989. I was wasted, and it was a blur, but it set a high bar. My second show was in April of 1991 – a welcome home gift for my buddies Russ and Scott, who had just come back from Saudi/Dessert Storm. Then there was the first Lollapalooza in August of 1991. I’ll never forget it. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. The energy was palpable. You could feel the heat emanating from the stage and from every gland of the hopped-up crowd in the August humidity, no concessions, no water on site, and the sweat of the other 20K+ people there. The band was on fire and the crowd was eating it up. That was my first exposure to NIN as well. Everybody was churning and the pit was pretty much the front 3/4 of the audience. It was a religious experience, and I felt like I was part of something bigger than myself. With no brakes.
Chaos and Order, but mostly Chaos
Jane’s Addiction perfectly blends chaos and order. Their music is complex and layered, but there’s an underlying simplicity to it as well. There’s groove. There’s swagger and swing and drumming almost impossibly in-pocket. It’s easy to get lost in their sound. And when you add in the visual, manic element of their live show, it’s sex, drugs, and sensory overload in all the best ways.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is that makes the band’s chemistry so special. On paper, they shouldn’t work well together. Farrell, the group’s primary songwriter and frontman, is a self-proclaimed “pleasure seeker” who lives for the moment; Perkins is the quiet, introspective type who often keeps to himself; Avery is an outspoken political activist with a dry sense of humor, and Navarro is a former child actor who battled addiction for years. But when they come together to play music, something clicks and they become greater than the sum of their parts.
The band first formed in 1986 out of the ashes of Farrell’s previous group, Psi Com. They quickly established themselves as one of the most exciting up-and-coming bands on the Los Angeles rock scene thanks to their fierce live shows and unique blend of punk, metal, and funky psychedelia. After releasing their debut album Nothing Shocking in 1988, they toured incessantly, building up a dedicated following who were drawn to Farrell’s hedonistic lifestyle and often outrageous onstage antics (which frequently involved stripping down to his birthday suit).
But it was with Ritual de lo Habitual that Jane’s Addiction truly hit their stride creatively. Mature and more reflective than past efforts, the album spawned the massive radio hit “Been Caught Stealing” and catapulted the band to mainstream success. However, tensions within the group were also running high at this point, and came to a head during their now legendary Lollapalooza performance in 1991, cementing their reputation and announcing their breakup at the same time.
Their music is intensely personal and yet somehow still universal. There is an intensity to their shows that can be overwhelming, but it is also this intensity that makes them so special.
I’ve seen them many times over the years, but it’s always special when they play with the original lineup. There’s just something about that chemistry that can’t be replicated. It’s truly magical.
It’s rare for a band to be able to go 30 years without recording together and still be explosive on stage when they play live. This is due in part to the fact that the dynamics of a band can change over time, making it difficult for them to recapture the magic they had in the past. This is something that Jane’s Addiction has been able to do, due in part to their chemistry which is still as strong as ever. Despite their infrequent recordings, the band always manages to put on an amazing show when they play live. This is a testament to the power of their music and the importance of chemistry in creating great art.
Fast Forward to 2022
Following the band’s extended hiatus in 2021, Billy Corgan confirmed that he was working on a new Smashing Pumpkins album and tour. On May 11th, 2022, the Smashing Pumpkins announced the Spirits on Fire Tour, a 32-date trek across America with Jane’s Addiction that will begin in Dallas and will end in Los Angeles at the Hollywood Bowl (October 2nd to November 19th).