Monday, November 10, 2003

The story of their excess

"Ain't no wrong now, ain't no right / There's only pleasure and pain...". The hedonist's credo, according to Jane's Addiction - a band who know what they're talking about. A band that have fucked anything that moves and snorted or injected anything that doesn't, and lived to tell the tale.

Telling the tale is what they're here in Nottingham to do tonight, 13 years after they did it last.

In the absence of Eric Avery, new bassist Chris Chaney effortlessly eases into the fluid rhythm of 'Up The Beach'. He is joined by a mohicanned Stephen Perkins, visibly beaming behind his massive drumkit, delighted at the rapturous reception his legendary band are receiving. And then there's bona fide rock god Dave Navarro, hairy of face and still evidently afraid that wearing a T-shirt might cause a violent allergic reaction or else somehow impair his ability to play guitar.

As 'Up The Beach' fades out, Navarro strikes into 'Stop!', the first track from their monumental 1990 LP Ritual De Lo Habitual, and suddenly, rushing onto the stage with the cry of "Here we go!!!", is Perry Farrell. The place, and yours truly, goes apeshit.

Perry Farrell is without doubt the queerest straight man in rock. Clad in what can only be described as tight-fitting electrician's overalls, multicoloured striped T-shirt and diamond-effect-studded fingerless gloves, the Crown Prince of Flamboyance prances and preens around the stage with a flower between his teeth lapping up the adoration. Rather like Iggy Pop, despite years of abuse and debauchery he has retained a curiously sinuous physique. Between songs he swigs from a bottle of Jaegermeister and tells us that "insect sex is better than human sex, because there are more than two legs each, and lots of bright colours..." He's not of this earth.

Farrell knows that great rock 'n' roll, like most great art, is about sex and death. And that's why, at the heart of tonight's set, just after the classic shoplifters' anthem 'Been Caught Stealing', we get the epic 'Ted, Just Admit It', a song inspired by serial killer Ted Bundy which features the repeated lines "Sex is violence" and "Nothing's shocking".

As with Jim Morrison, though, Farrell's moments of lyrical genius are interspersed with a good quantity of pseudo-mystical bullshit which remains palatable only because he and his band are such a phenomenal and outlandish proposition musically and visually. In addition to the best of their past, we get the best of their present - the choicest cuts from this year's Strays LP, including 'The Riches', the title track and classic-in-the-making 'The Price I Pay'. Even 'Everybody's Friend', rather wet and crassly hippyish on record, comes over well. In fact, the set's only low point is the mystifying decision to play a feeble acoustic version of their roaring steroid-pumped comeback single 'Just Because' when ripping some heads off necks with the original would have seemed by far the best course of action.

When the steel drums of 'Jane Says' bring the set to an end, the whole band line up at the front of the stage to bow and take the applause together. The theatricality of the whole show is encapsulated right there - we know we've witnessed a PERFORMANCE. If there really is only pleasure and pain, then the world was a much more painful place without them.

(A footnote about support band Stellastarr* - because, inevitably, they are little more than a footnote on the night. Sensibly refusing to take to heart the poor response, attributable to the mismatch between themselves and those in front of whom they find themselves playing, they just get their heads down and beaver away industriously with their Pixies / Raveonettes / Breeders stuff. And it's to their credit - by the time they're finishing up, with recent single 'Jenny', I'm much more inclined to check them out on record than I was at first.)

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