Jane's Addiction at Massey Hall (178 Victoria), Friday (sold out) and Saturday (September 26 and 27). $55.50- $65.50. 416-872-4255, 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Jane's Addiction guitarist dave Navarro used to be a drugged-out waste case. He has blackout periods of several months in his past. That's freaky. Months?! I can't imagine that. "Yeah, well, try shooting heroin and cocaine on a daily basis," he snaps on the phone from his California home. No, thanks. Don't think I will.
When Jane's Addiction released Nothing's Shocking, I, along with gobs of other folks of vastly diverse musical preferences, fell madly in love. It was 1988. Guns N' Roses and Rick Astley were still at the top of the charts. The alterna set clung to the Cure, Love and Rockets, Ministry and the Sisters of Mercy.
Punk and industrial had yet to hit the mainstream. The Chili Peppers were still funky goobers. Grunge was still the stuff between your toes. Alternative music hadn't moved into the mainstream.
Jane's Addiction was like nothing we'd heard before. It was rock, punk, jazz, metal, aggressive, melancholy and as fun as a barrel of monkeys.
Before long they would change the musical landscape, Perry Farrell would start Lollapalooza, a breakthrough concept that paved the way for overblown outdoor rock/crap festivals from Edgefest to Ozzfest. Then they'd break up and we would all be sad.
There were other projects like Porno for Pyros and Deconstruction. Navarro went on to play on the Chili Peppers' ill-fated One Hot Minute.
In 1996 Jane's reunited and have been touring pretty extensively since. This year they've finally come out with a new record, Strays. What took them so long?
"I guess it just presented itself when it did," Navarro tells me from his California home. "Perry and I have a particular chemistry. I don't play the same with anyone else, and he doesn't sing the same with anyone else, and Steve (Perkins) is part of that, too. This is where we belong."
Drug-crazed frenzies and all-round madness are a huge part of what made Jane's Addiction Jane's Addiction. I'm wondering, with all the new cleanliness and sobriety, if there's still a sense of madness in the band, something indelibly rock 'n' roll that surpasses being hepped up on goofballs. We've seen it time and time again. Lose the madness, lose the thrill (see Aerosmith, the Stones).
"Well, y'know, at the time you're talking about, I didn't really see it, and I don't see it now. Part of living in quote, unquote, madness is not being aware that it's madness. The essence of craziness is not knowing you're crazy. Nobody ever looked at each other and said, "Wow! This is so crazy!'"
The new record, Strays, is not crazy. It sounds much like Jane's Addiction picking up where they left us in 1990, right down to the first lyrics of the opening tune. Navarro's guitars rock with full force, offsetting perfectly Farrell's ethereal whine. Lyrics range from insightful to nonsensical. Just Because and The Riches are great tracks.
But Strays lacks that chaotic appeal of a bunch of guys on the edge, displayed in the inane infectious explosion that was Mountain Song. And it's missing the melancholy that came with the sense that Farrell was truly drowning in his lyrics on tunes like Jane Says and Summertime Rolls.
But the price of such mastery was awfully high if it had to be paid in the form of being a total mess.
Eric Avery's absence is also noticeable. While newcomer Chris Chaney (Alanis Morissette's's bassist) does an acceptable job, Avery's bass lines were a massive part of the foundation on which all the best Jane's tunes were built.
Navarro doesn't buy it. He says there was never any formula.
"We're not much for formula or process or a specific way to do something," he says. "There's no structure - that's part of being an artist. I think we all tap into that really well."
Strays has already made it higher up the charts than Ritual De Lo Habitual ever did, and people are eating it up like ambrosia. I'm thinking that's because it's Jane's Addiction and we love them and folks have such a hard-on for Perry Farrell we'd wet ourselves if he belched Mary Had A Little Lamb.
Whatever. It's nice to have a new record.