Perry Farrell, lead singer with Jane's Addiction, hatched the plan that birthed the Lollapalooza festival. Jane's Addiction headlined the first run of that festival in 1991, at the height of its commercial prowess. Then the band broke up.
This seemed like a violent act of self-sabotage, especially when one factors in the drug problems within the band at the time. Why would a group kick it in the head just as it was about to explode into the mainstream in a major way, turning the festival started by its frontman into a funeral instead of the Technicolor dreamscape/alternative hippie-fest it was intended to be?
In retrospect, we can see that breaking up the band was in keeping with the Jane's Addiction ethic of constant self-examination and the embracing of contradictory impulses. It's also probably the reason we are still talking about the group, when so many of the artists from that maiden voyage of the Lollapalooza tour -- Nine Inch Nails, Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Butthole Surfers, Fishbone, the Rollins Band, the Violent Femmes, Body Count and Ice-T -- have either broken up, ceased to be relevant or transformed into something else entirely.
Jane's, on the other hand, is touring behind one of the most ambitious recordings of its career, the heavy psychedelic masterpiece "The Great Escape Artist." When that tour hits Artpark's Mainstage Theatre on Monday, Farrell, guitarist Dave Navarro, drummer Stephen Perkins and bassist Chris Chaney will be doing what so many of their brethren from what Farrell dubbed "the alternative nation" are not doing -- performing new, vital music in a set that doesn't require the band to lean solely on material it crafted 25 years back.
"I say, you need currency or you become a retro act," Farrell recently told Syracuse.com, going on to insist that such acts "recede You have to be continually planting seeds and getting new crops You're an artist. That's your job."
Farrell has taken that job incredibly seriously, even if he has often come across as a wicked Court Jester with a streak of Caligula and a fascination with the decadent. He has remained creatively restless, as if fighting off the atrophy that artistic complacency can breed.
For a band that has been together off and on for nearly 30 years, the Jane's Addiction discography is not exactly stuffed to the brim. Jane's has only four full-length albums and one EP to its credit. Two of these -- "Nothing's Shocking" (1988) and "Ritual de lo Habitual" (1990) -- are considered to be stone classics of American alternative music and art-rock. Taking all that time away from the band -- Farrell with his Porno For Pyros (which also included Perkins), Satellite Party and as a solo artist; Navarro with his own groups and as a member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers -- did significant commercial damage to Jane's.
The 2003 reunion album "Strays" all but disappeared without causing a ripple, despite the fact that it easily measured up to past Jane's triumphs. Eight years later, "The Great Escape Artist," another superb effort, has been treated similarly in the marketplace.
Part of the reason for this is the collapse of the very music industry that Jane's managed to exploit without sacrificing its artistic integrity back in the day. "Alternative Nation" has scattered to the winds, without the unifying concept of viable alternative rock radio to root it in the earth. And even if plenty of people have listened, or are still listening to "Escape Artist," not too many of them are paying for that pleasure.
Yet Jane's battles on, performing as if there is still plenty to prove, as its early spring tour stop at Rochester's Auditorium Theatre made plain. During that gig, Farrell was ringmaster at a circus of the weird, acting as if he was gleefully courting chaos within the music. He sings with an effects rack within reach of his right arm, and he twists the pitch, adds cavernous reverb here, long-decaying delay there, rather violently "searching for the sound," to borrow a phrase from Phil Lesh.
So this is Jane's in action, 22 years after that initial Lollapalooza run. In early August, the band returned to Lollapalooza, now no longer a traveling freak show, but a stationary event held yearly in Chicago. But the band didn't play the mainstage. Instead, it performed at the official after-party, cramming way too many souls into a downtown club for a show that reportedly ran from midnight until 4 a.m. Many of those in attendance could not possibly have seen Jane's Addiction on that first Lollapalooza tour.
Talk about planting new seeds.