Jane’s Addiction’s Theatre of Escapists Tour made its second pass through North Myrtle Beach’s House of Blues on Thursday (Sept. 19) with only a couple of dates left on the trek, but the band showed no signs of road weariness, lighting up an intimate crowd with a theatrical mix of some new and some tried-and-true material.
The Orlando band Telethon was the opening act, coming out to a black backdrop and kept it simple. Telethon played a short set of songs that ranged from electronica, rock and dark pop – think of an experimental Phoenix (the band not the mythic bird). The members were energetic, did their best as an unknown band to hype the crowd for the headliners, and in a snap, they were packing up.
Jane’s Addiction hit the stage with little fanfare. The band walked out shaking hands with the front row. Behind them stood a statue of two nude women, setting the burlesque motif of the tour. Dave Navarro and the band’s newest member, bass player Chris Chaney, strapped on their guitars. Stephen Perkins jumped behind his drums and Perry Farrell stepped behind the microphone. They attacked one of the newer songs “Underground,” from 2011’s “The Great Escape Artist.”
The crowd roared from the opening chord but somewhere in the middle of the tune, you could almost hear the horde asking if the band was going to stick to its lesser known newer material. Let’s face it; the band was a phenomenon back in 1988 when hair metal owned radio stations and MTV (yeah, the network that used to play music). Sure, there was an underground sound, but Jane’s transcended the underground. After the self-titled debut live album, the quartet rose into the mainstream with “Nothing’s Shocking.” Then they were elevated to cultish rock gods with the next album, “Ritual de lo Habitual.”
Jane’s Addiction’s music was unlike anything else of the time. You can call the band alternative rock, but Farrell and Co. were more than that – their music was beautiful and ugly, hard and playful, genius and naïve, wise and innocent. And in 1991, at their strongest, after two groundbreaking albums and the creation of the uber-rockfest Lollapalooza, they broke up. It left a void and a mythology.
The members formed new bands and short-term reunions happened. They tried to live up to that mythology in 2003 when they came back together to produce “Strays.” But it was a hot-and-cold affair and the magic wasn’t there. They got closer to that magic with “The Great Escape Artist.”
But their early run was lightning in a bottle and 2013 is the twentieth anniversary of the release of “Nothing’s Shocking,” and as if on cue, Chaney kicked into the thick bassline of “Mountain Song.” The crowd screams, “Coming down the mountain.” And it’s on.
The room is alive with the energy and it doesn’t let up when they drive through “Just Because” and “Superhero,” two of the best songs off “Strays.” The songs sound like they have fresh legs live. Farrell gets loose and starts to tell stories about swimming in the Atlantic Ocean.
Navarro is lip-syncing lyrics, displaying he’s still a madman on guitar, fucking the crowd with his eyes. On stage left, two scantily-clad women dance on a riser (one of them is Farrell’s wife). They use canes and ball-gags to illustrate the songs with movement. Both sides of the stage are lined with banks of screens, blasting lights and images on loops. Farrell hasn’t lost a step. He goofy dances and holds court with the audience, displays the ease of a man who’s spent a large portion of his life as a rock star. Chaney’s playing is interchangeable with the original bassist Eric Avery. Perkins’ drumming has only gotten tighter, more thunderous.
With the set moving in this direction it only makes sense that the band run away with the momentum by busting into “Been Caught Stealing,” arguably its biggest hit. It is followed up with the new single, “Another Soulmate,” before driving through “Ain’t No Right.” But they do no wrong as the soft opening of “Three Days” starts. This is where the tension builds and builds and the band holds it until a climax of maracas and the dancers rolling around the stage, embracing, strutting with bravado.
It’s the magic, and it’s still a powerful thing as the band pours out “Ocean Size,” dips and dives with the dramatic “Then She Did” and rev up to explode into “Stop.” The crowd yells along every lyric.
There’s a small pause as the roadies bring out the steel drums for the band to all join in on a line of percussion on the chanter “Chip Away.” During the song, two tattooed femme fatales are suspended from piercings in their backs. They spin and fly over the stage. The crowd winces and cheers.
The final song is another popular fan favorite, “Jane Says.” Navarro and Chaney sit in antique chairs. Perkins plays the steel drum and a set on bongos. And Farrell leads the sing-along. It does feel a little anticlimactic as they take their final bow, only 13 songs and an hour and some change after the band started.
But the show somehow typifies this band that’s managed only four studio albums in 25 years – it was sweet and short and full of magic moments. Somewhere in the set, Farrell freed himself from the two shirts he was wearing. Rubbing his bare torso, he said, “Sometimes the wind blows right…you start to feel those old ghosts.” We think most of this crowd feels the same way.