On Wednesday, August 15, art-alt-rock legends Jane’s Addiction brought their Theater of the Escapists tour to the Mann Music Center in Philadelphia. Starting with the founding of Lollapalooza in 1991, Perry Farrell and company (but mostly Farrell) have striven to make their live shows an experience rather than a mere concert. Their popularity may have waned in the wake of lineup changes, hiatuses and sub-par (by Jane’s Addiction’s fans’ standards) releases, this ambition has remained no less vital.
Supporting Jane’s Addiction was South African techno-rap duo, Die Antwoord. A green-masked, orange-hoodied DJ took the stage alone at 8:30 and spun a few minutes of profanity before band members Ninja and Yo-Landi Vi$$er climbed aboard, also in orange. Disturbing images flashed on one of three video screens, ranging from a bald child-man to Casper the Friendly Ghost wielding a huge purple erection. They jumped and danced and rapped, and succeeded in warming up the crowd more than aptly during a forty-minute set.
The heretofore concealed stage setup was made visible during the break. Twin 25-foot-high nude women posing before an upside-down, pentagonal cityscape loomed over the audience. This was to be theater indeed, and some of the crowd were dressed for the occasion. Spotted were a transvestite vampire, Stitch of Disney’s Lilo & Stitch, a zombie linebacker, and more—the lot of them seeming out of place in an all-wood, open-air venue best known for hosting acoustic and orchestral acts.
Lights dimmed slowly as parts I and II of Pink Floyd’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” played over the PA, followed by the first verse of “Welcome to the Machine,” a blatant homage to the godfathers of art rock. Jane’s Addiction burst onto the stage with “Underground” from their latest album, The Great Escape Artist. Guitarist Dave Navarro occupied stage left, shirtless and donning a fedora. Touring bassist Chris Chaney stood on stage right, drummer Steven Perkins pounded away on a riser in the center, and in front of him—and all over the stage—was the fifty plus year-old Perry Farrell, wearing a purple and gray carnival barker outfit. On either side of the stage, two women dressed in white, 20-foot-long tent skirts were lifted high above the stage on swings.
During “Mountain Song,” Farrell discarded the overcoat, running to and fro, but sounded like he was having some vocal trouble. Some notes lagged. Others that would have normally been higher or more technically difficult were altered. As the concert went on, it was unclear if this was because of his own limitations, artistic choice or sound problems. Indeed, the Mann is not designed for pounding drums and thumping bass.
Before “Been Caught Stealing,” Farrell announced, “at this time, I’m accepting party favors,” and alluded to the band’s decision to honor tickets from the weekend’s rain-shortened Musikfest show in Bethlehem, PA. The song had new life on stage as Navarro and Farrell played a little “call-and-answer” in the middle. During “Ain’t No Right,” also from 1990’s Ritual de lo Habitual, Farrell definitely sounded winded, but found his range for the high parts of “Irresistible Force.”
Following this song, an animatronic woman pushing a baby carriage walked slowly across the stage. This misdirection allowed the stagehands to arrange the stage for the acoustic “Jane Says” and “Classic Girl.” The tunes best fit the venue and were the best sounding of the evening. The stage was reset for Nothing’s Shocking‘s lead song, “Up the Beach,” followed by “Whores” from their live 1987 self-titled debut. “Whores” had minimum spectacle, reminiscent of their early days. Not to be outdone by austerity, set closer “Ted, Just Admit It…” had everything, including girls on a bench, evolving from a pose reminiscent of the cover of Nothing’s Shocking, transitioning into all manner of pawing and full-out gyrations. Along with frenetic lights and the highest energy level from the band all night, this song would have been a great way to close the show.
Then came an awkward break: Farrell seemed to forget to pretend the show was over and sat there talking for a few seconds after the rest of the band was gone. The audience didn’t catch on right away, but as a little confusion began to settle in, the band rebounded with “Splash a Little Water on It,” “Ocean Size,” and finally a faithful rendition of “Stop”—allowing the audience to “hum along” with Farrell as instructed. All in all, despite sound and technical issues, Jane’s Addiction delivered the kind of theatrical, high-energy performance that launched the band into the stratosphere over twenty years ago.