Towards the back end of the long, hot summer of 1990, fans of a certain cult Los Angeles rock band dropped their record player’s needle to be greeted with the calm, deadpan voice of an anonymous Spanish lady, reciting a kind of warning that was equal parts disclaimer and public service announcement: “ladies and gentlemen, we have more influence over your children than you do – but we love them!”
Twenty five years on, and that prophetic statement turned out truer than any of the involved parties could have predicted. The album in question, Jane’s Addiction’s ‘Ritual De Lo Habitual’ – released a full year before Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ – went on to storm the rock charts and, in the eyes of many, spearheaded the entire alternative rock movement that would change the game for mainstream music over the course of the decade that followed. To mark the quarter century milestone since both the album and the original Lollapalooza festival (which acted as Jane’s’ initial farerwell tour in 1991), the band’s “sterling spoon anniversary” concerts are showcasing the LP in full, and when the tour touched down in Camden, it proved to be a night of celebration for both the band and its fans.
Opening the show with that same iconic “señores y señoras… Juana’s Adicción!” introduction before launching into the frenetic ‘Stop!’, it became immediately clear that these are songs that still mean a hell of a lot to the band’s faithful, with the crowd bellowing the “turn off that smokestack and that goddamn radio!” chant back at frontman Perry Farrell with the exact fervour you’d expect from fans of an act that rarely grace this tiny island with its presence.
Now far removed from the cross-dressing, scruffy punk look of old, Farrell was impeccably dressed in a fedora and ascot, reminding us all that this isn’t your parents’ Jane’s Addiction – this is an older, wiser and more polished group of musicians, with the frontman acting more like a dandyish circus ringleader than the heroin chic shaman of his younger days. He was also, unusually, a man of few words during the performance – save for a quip about hoping his country’s election of its first female leader works out better than it did for UK with Maggie – preferring to let the music do the talking as he frequently took swigs from his bottle of wine.
The funk rock workouts ‘No One’s Leaving’ and ‘Been Caught Stealing’ kept up the momentum of the album’s breakneck first half. ‘Obvious’, meanwhile, saw Farrell at his most mystical, as the crowd joined in with the track’s wordless vocalisations like some kind of alt rock plainsong, though it was Dave Navarro that emerged the star of the show, as he coaxed layers of flickering, swirling psychedelia from his guitar over the hypnotic rhythm section. It’s a hazy, immersive piece of music – Navarro once claimed it was the closest the band have ever come from sounding like they were from outer space – that nonetheless translates better onstage than one might have feared.
The show, like the record, then changed mood as they slipped into Ritual’s ethereal second half, including a captivating run through the album’s pulsing, tribal centrepiece ‘Three Days’, a three part symphony that lays greater claim to any to being the ‘Stairway To Heaven’ of the nineties – a ‘Stairway’ about a marathon drug-fuelled sex bender, that is. Similarly epic numbers ‘…Then She Did’ and ‘Classic Girl’ left the crowd comparatively quiet, as they took in the sprawling kaleidoscope of sounds emanating from the stage – and, in the case of ‘Of Course’, the interpretive dancer performing on the walkway above the band’s heads.
A tribute to one of the band’s idols with a cover of Bowie’s ‘Rebel Rebel’ began the encore – a decision which turned out to be the one disappointment of the evening as Farrell’s high tenor didn’t mesh well with the source material. Though still a charismatic showman, his once earth-shattering banshee wail has been sanded down with age, now switching between pained yelp and a reedy croon, neither of which fit the task at hand. The remainder of the set was basically a ‘best of the rest’ of their catalogue – including thunderous ‘Mountain Song’, latter-day staple ‘Just Because’ and an eerie, mesmeric run through the serial killer case study ‘Ted, Just Admit It…’ – featuring lingerie clad, tattooed suspension artists swinging above the stage on hooks, provoking a mix of awe and unease from different sections of the crowd. It was sure proof that the band’s transgressive, taboo-breaking ethos is still intact, years after their commercial heyday – this is the infamous song, after all, that gave rise to their unofficial motto: “nothing’s shocking”.
The obligatory finale of ‘Jane Says’, sparked the largest singalong of the night, with drummer Steven Perkins breaking out the steel drums for the occasion whilst all the dancers from the night’s performance return to the stage. It was a joyous, communal send off, and a fitting end to a show that reminded onlookers both why they were such an important part of rock history – but also, in this age of benign Topshop indie we now found ourselves, why we’re blessed to still have them around.