MONTCLAIR, NJ—These founding forebears of alternative rock, Jane’s Addiction, icons for a quarter-century of some of the most original, transgressive and explicit performance art, made their stop in Montclair, fronted as always by the semi-demonic Perry Farrell, to a sold out and mesmerized New Jersey crowd. The show was billed as Theatre Of The Escapists, referring to the name of the latest album, The Great Escape Artist. Indeed, before the actual concert, a costumed gent in a derby and handlebar mustache (steampunk is all the rage these days) went around chaining spectators to each other and marching them around the theatre and on to the stage in irons. No word on how they escaped.
The openers were an exceptionally loud metal duo from Belgium, called Black Box Revelation, whose vocal whine, together with splashy guitar and stylish drumming, generated a sound like Smashing Pumpkins-meets-The White Stripes.
When they finished their well-received set, the lights went down, and recordings of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon filled the air as red searchlights began to scan the stage. During the fading strains of “Welcome To The Machine,” the eager audience began to stomp, whistle and call for the headliners. When the stage lit up—a dazzling, multi-colored display—it was exactly what one would expect from Jane’s Addiction: Two colossal statues of naked women, back-to-back, obscenely lit from below; plus a seven-foot, standing, stuffed bear on stage and, in addition to the musicians, two gorgeous brunettes swinging high above the stage in huge, tent-like skirts as the band poured out their first piece, “Underground,” from the new album.
Most of the show consisted of their well-established repertoire. They proceeded directly into “Mountain Song” as three oversized screens projected depressing images of various druggies getting high. Farrell stopped to announce his long-time affection for NJ and the shore. He temporarily came down off the stage into the front row of the crowd denouncing his philosophical opposition to barriers, then launched into “Been Caught Stealing,” also accompanied by black & white footage from some vintage 1950s juvenile delinquency scare films.
He proceeded to “Ain’t No Right,” which he claimed was his motto, then launched into an extended, laid-back and blues-tinged version the block buster hit, “Nothing’s Shocking,” title-track from album of the same name, while the two brunettes, now attired in skimpy black lingerie and perched on a sofa high above the stage, began to gyrate and unravel themselves from black ribbons with which they were wrapped together. While this song went into crescendo mode on Dave Navarro’s amazing guitar riffs, the video screen showed cheesy, vintage black & white, bondage and S&M videos, and the crowd got their kicks chanting along to the line, “sex is violence.”
A track from the new album followed, then the dreamy “Classic Girl,” during which the screens showed peaceful beach and surf scenes interspersed with antique footage of a busty mid-20th century, blonde bathing beauty. This was followed by a little patter about living out west in L.A., which caused Farrell to utter the nostalgic (to Jane’s fans) cry “Juana’s Adiccion,” leading into the next song, the iconic “Jane Says” from Nothing’s Shocking, complete with steel drums. At the conclusion of this song, Dave Navarro joined two guest bass drummers to create a jungle-like percussion soundscape for the song “Trip Away,” with high speed, jumbled footage from Africa showing on the screens. This was followed by some ultra-deep bass electronica while the lights dimmed, only to become dazzling again during “End To Lies” from The Great Escape Artist.
It was unfortunate that the sound quality of the vocals came out horribly distorted during “Three Days,” which is arguably the group’s greatest opus. Navarro’s brilliant guitar solo didn’t suffer from any sound quality issues however, and salvaged the situation. The vocal distortions were rectified midway through the song and thus this complex and symphonic masterpiece was ultimately consummated very well in the end. The videos showed a jumble of historic, military and industrial scenes, the two hot brunettes returned to the swings high above the stage, and the concert reached an initial conclusion with “Stop” from Ritual De Lo Habitual before a brief break. For encores the band performed two more pieces—the first of these too noisy and chaotic for this writer to identify, and the finale was “Ocean Size.” As the lights went up, all the performers came out on stage to wave greetings and appreciation to the satisfied crowd.
One further note is worth stating. The Theatre Of The Escapists, billed on the website as The Underground Orgy, promised spectators a “unique blend of alternative rock, art and immersive theatre.” The promotions on their website went on to claim that “barbers, photographers, poets, actors, etc. would be set up in the lobbies of the theatre.”
If there was any truth to that claim, it wasn’t evident to the ticket holders who were hustled through the lobby in the usual, brusque fashion. Nor was there any validity to the claim that VIP status existed or was worth paying for. Sure, a very nice (if somewhat risqué) poster was given. But anyone with VIP status who asked to sit in the stadium seating in the balcony was told that those seats wee already “sold out.” To whom? When? Furthermore, those with so-called VIP tickets stood and watched from ordinary locations while dozens of presumably even more Very Important Persons were escorted into truly advantaged viewing platforms, barricaded off from the rest of us.
Finally, there was a lack of any valid reference to the theme of “escapism.” No escape artist hung suspended in a straightjacket from which to extricate himself. No one was shackled and immersed into a coffin-like tank of water. Nothing of that sort occurred. Instead, it was the same, generic and predictable stuff that was deemed roguish 20 years ago. Concertgoers to this music scene have again and again seen similar grainy black and white footage mainly from the 1950s, many times by now. The hype accorded to Theatre Of The Escapists, constituted nothing short of false advertising.
Perry Farrell, great composer and musician that he is, has come to think of himself as the mastermind of alternative entertainment since his creation of the immensely successful Lollapalooza series. He has, however, overreached in failing to create something unique or even thematically appropriate with this tour labeled Theatre Of The Escapists—The Underground Orgy which proved to be more an orgy of overstatement.