The Palace ceased to be foreign territory to me a week after turning eighteen. I don’t know who I saw or how the gig went but I remember feeling at home standing on sticky floorboards in an inconspicuous-looking building on Bourke St. It doesn’t take long to acclimatise to the atmosphere of the Palace; it’s one of Melbourne’s best venues. Yet, as accustomed as I am to these hallowed halls tonight I am a stranger in a strange land. I am once, even twice removed from almost everyone in the crowd. Many are clad in t-shirts that are faded and torn, original tour t-shirts. If questioned they could recall for you that revelatory moment when they first saw the video for ‘Mountain Song’ detonate on rage or Video Hits (let’s face it, it was rage) and the band playing that raucous number slithered into their lives.
Jane’s Addiction has always been one of the most intriguing bands on the music meat market. They defy the laws of rock’n’roll physics. They are at once heavy and funky, dirty and flashy, underground and mainstream. Even, at one point, a band that was simultaneously together and broken up – their ’91 farewell tour became the iconic Lollapalooza festival. It’s tough to overestimate the importance of Jane’s Addiction. They were the prodigal band – sowing the seeds of ’90s rock with the Grim Reaper’s scythe. Perry Farrell was every charming lowlife you could never bring yourself to hate. His lyrics were pages torn from a Bukowski novel. His was a West Coast that hung kind of crooked, off the side of the US of A. It was grotesque but gripping like an Edvard Munch painting. Everyone wished the ‘big one’ would hit already and put California out in the water where it belongs, but Farrell would tell you about the merits of the town. He’d tell you about the underage hookers he’d seen, his friend who got gay bashed some place downtown and about his roommate with the chemical dependency. He tells us tonight ‘I love seeing all of you, I love seeing all the crooked teeth, all the pimples…’ continuing a list of other beautiful, human features. Farrell pumps these street soliloquies like a fix into your ear canal, though tonight the man’s caustic voice is taking a backburner to the music. The microphone levels are completely out of whack, turning Farrell’s raspy howl into an acerbic whisper. No-one seems to care.
The band comes out in trademark style and though Dave Navarro makes the boys and girls drip, it’s bassist Eric Avery’s name that people call throughout the show. Anyone with half a brain cell knows Avery is indispensable to Jane’s Addiction. Musically, his bass lines set the heavy framework through which Farrell’s vocals thread, behind which Stephen Perkins’ drums beat like a Martin Hannett nightmare and on top of which Navarro’s guitar comes down like the falling sky. Morally, Avery is the beating heart of the band and is – at the time of my writing this article – sadly no longer a member (We’ll have to see whether Duff McKagan can fill his shoes now I guess – Ed.).
Farrell comes out after the band to the ‘All hail!’ of the crowd. Dressed in a glittery Sgt. Pepper jacket, he stands on the monitors and takes a swig from a bottle of wine. He is part emcee of a Weimar Republic cabaret and part screaming hobo on a late night train. ‘Up the Beach’ gets things started slow but with just cause because the next the song is going to remind everybody why they came here – ‘Coming down the mountain!’
‘Three Days or The Tragic Ballad of Xiola Bleu’, is played at some point in the pandemonium. For this one, Farrell makes his way up some stairs to meet two scantily clad females. Appearing as overgrown, mechanical porcelain dolls they drape a cape over Farrell and occasionally writhe or gesticulate. The Palace just turned into the Cabaret Voltaire, my once removal from the audience creeps into disconnection from reality. Later in the show; the two ladies recreate the cover of Nothing’s Shocking – sitting on a sideways rocking chair – before miming oral sex.
Taking a break, Farrell reveals his love of the Australian spirit ‘I love listening to your Winter Olympics commentators, the guy’s like in 19th place and he says “The Australian nails it!”’ and goes on to tie this into something about the nature of music and rock’n’roll. The man has perfected the art of crowd banter, the only person who can hold a torch to him at this point is Dave Wyndorf, who’s gotten too fat to tour.
Before the well called for encore, the band rip apart ‘Ted, Just Admit It…’ – the audience chants with Farrell on the ‘Sex is violent!’ part like zealots at a mass.
The show’s climax is a tom-tom drumming jam with Navarro, Avery and Perkins’ drumming accompanied by Farrell’s vocals looped and modified by effects boxes.
Nothing’s shocking but everything is open to scrutiny and the general bullshit back-and-forthing that makes up the majority of our daily lives. Ritual de lo Habitual may be lacklustre compared to Nothing’s Shocking and Farrell’s voice may falter from time to time, which it never used to, and you can how predict how second-rate a Jane’s without Avery will again be, but all in all, you can’t deny a good time and damned if I didn’t have one.