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They don't really make bands like Jane's Addiction anymore—not major label bands, anyway. They were the last gasp of dangerous rock 'n' roll writ large, the sort of outfit that was truly unpredictable and more than a little self-destructive. Nirvana (and Pearl Jam to a lesser extent) gets the lion's share of credit for popularizing alternative music, but they made their mark by standing on the shoulders of Jane's Addiction, who were wholly unique when they entered the scene in the mid-'80s. The first time I heard them, I was blown away. At the time, there was hard rock and there was jangly, morose college music that made you want to goth out like some Tim Burton character and slit your own wrists. The two genres stayed in their own little ghettos, happily isolated from one another. Then Jane's Addiction came along and kicked down all the genre barriers. They mixed the art sensibilities and political awareness of college music with the hedonistic androgyny of prog rock and glam and the melt-your-face-off punch of hard rock. Music in the '90s would never be the same. Hair metal was doomed, and the path was cleared for the alternative and grunge revolution.
From 1990 to 1991, I saw Jane's Addiction in concert around a half-dozen times, in venues that included Chicago's Aragon "Brawlroom," some gymnasium at a community college somewhere in Wisconsin, and a huge outdoor amphitheater during the first Lollapalooza tour (the festival that made festivals popular again). One never knew what might happen at a Jane's show. The boys' playing might be tight and assured, or heroin-stupor sloppy; the mood might be jovial or angry; the show might be uneventful, or lead singer Perry Farrell might decide to whip out Little Perry and waggle it at the mosh-pitters. No matter what, the band's concerts were electric. But even at the height of their popularity, Jane's Addiction was like some alien and highly unstable element, seemingly ready to incinerate at the slightest provocation. By the time their second major label CD was released, 1990's Ritual de lo Habitual, and even as Farrell was launching Lollapalooza, there was a sense of doom about the band—one expected at any moment to hear that guitarist Dave Navarro or bassist Eric Avery had died of a drug overdose, or that Farrell had turned up HIV positive. In the end, rather than die in an explosion of tragic drama, Jane's just sort of fizzled out—mostly because Avery, an iconoclast among iconoclasts who couldn't stomach the bullshit that attended fame and fortune, just walked away. Jane's Addiction came to an unceremonious end in the winter of 1991, six years after they'd formed.
The band reunited a few times over the years, but always without Avery. In 1997, they staged the Relapse Tour with the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Flea standing in on bass. Their 2001 Jubilee Tour featured the bass playing of Martyn LeNoble of Farrell's post-Jane's band Porno for Pyros. Immediately after that tour, they picked up bassist Chris Chaney and recorded their first new record in over a decade, Strays. Without Avery, though, they never really sounded (or felt) like Jane's Addiction. I saw them during the Jubilee Tour and couldn't have been more disappointed. I felt like a piece of my youth had died. With a show that included strippers…er, dancers…gyrating atop platforms shaped like red stiletto heels, the glitzy (and trashy) concert was a far cry from the punk rock, DIY ass-kickings the band doled out when I was a college kid. I felt like I was at a Mötley Crüe show. I'm not one to throw around the phrase "sell out," but holy crap, that show was lame. In 2004, Jane's Addiction disbanded again. I prayed they'd never reform.
But in 2008, at the first ever NME Awards (hosted by UK rock magazine, National Musical Express), Jane's Addiction was honored with the Godlike Genius Award. And somehow the folks at NME convinced Eric Avery to join his former bandmates in the performance of a few tunes. Faces were melted. Six months later, the reunited original lineup began performing club shows. Rumors abounded that they sounded suspiciously like the old Jane's Addiction. The club dates evolved into a supporting slot on Nine Inch Nails' 2009 summer tour. So it is that we have this concert Blu-ray, recorded at the Voodoo Experience music and arts festival in New Orleans on Halloween night of 2009.
The crowd is raucous when Perry Farrell, Dave Navarro, Eric Avery, and drummer Stephen Perkins hit the stage. The boys tear through a 13-song set that looks like it was drafted in 1991. There are exactly zero tunes from Strays, but the set covers the highlights of Nothing's Shocking and Ritual de lo Habitual quite nicely, as well as "Chip Away," a fan favorite from their self-titled indie label debut. From the first notes of set opener "Up the Beach," Avery lays down a solid foundation for the rest of the band. It's instantly clear that many of the band's tunes began with his distinctive bass lines, and that he is absolutely indispensible to the Jane's Addiction sound. If the lineup during the Jubilee Tour felt like a hollow imitation, the band here feels very much like the real deal. Yes, the players are older and sober, and there isn't the sense of unpredictability and chaos that characterized their shows back in the day. But their playing is more precise than it once was—and as fiery as ever. Farrell capers about like a freak, Navarro rips off killer solos, Perkins flails about behind the drum kit like Animal from the Muppets, and Avery thrashes all over the stage. The chemistry is still there. The set is a perfect balance of straight-ahead rockers like "Mountain Song," "Ocean Size," and "Stop!," and progressive rock epics like "Three Days," "Then She Did…," and "Summertime Rolls." With the exception of "Had a Dad," "Pigs in Zen," and "Classic Girl," they cover all of their major tunes. The performance is good enough to make a fan wish they'd make another record…if not for the fact that Avery quit Jane's Addiction again in early 2010 (he's been replaced by former Guns N' Roses bassist, Duff McKagan).
Shot on high definition digital video, the concert is presented in a fine 1080i/AVC transfer that handles the extremes of concert lighting quite well. Detail and depth are every bit as impressive as we've come to expect from high def video. Digital artifacts are isolated and not at all intrusive.
There are three audio options. The preferred is a lossless DTS-HD 5.1 surround track that delivers dynamic, throaty bass, solid midrange, and crisp high-end. The mix is superb. Guitar, bass, and drums are all clean and discernible without overwhelming Farrell's vocals. The natural spatial design spreads the band primarily across the front soundstage, while crowd noise sits mainly in the rear. A Dolby 5.1 track has a similarly pleasing mix, but lacks the superb detail of the lossless track—especially in the low end. A Linear PCM stereo mix gets the job done, but pales in comparison to either of the surround tracks. I say that as someone who often prefers stereo mixes of concert discs (mediocre surround mixes can be muddy).
The disc also includes a four-minute behind-the-scenes featurette about the band's NME appearance which led to the short-lived reunion of the original line-up. There are two additional live tracks—"1%" and "Ocean Size"—both from 2008 and shot on inferior audio and video. Finally, there's a small photo gallery.
Jane's Addiction: Live Voodoo is a gem for fans of the band, particularly since there's never been an official document of the band's live performances (with the exception of a single CD included in the rarities box, A Cabinet of Curosities). The reunion of the band's original line-up could've been a disastrous disappointment. Instead, it's a revelation: band chemistry isn't fungible. Jane's Addiction isn't really Jane's Addiction without Farrell, Navarro, Perkins, and Avery. The performance isn't as anarchic the band's shows from two decades earlier, but it still rocks hard enough to make it crystal clear why Jane's Addiction was so damned influential.
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