A Ritual de lo Habitual in San Francisco With Jane's Addiction and Fishbone
Jane's first two albums continue to represent a pinnacle of sorts for the classic trio of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll which few other bands have distilled in such a vibrant manner.
It’s a cool windy Wednesday night on Nob Hill, San Francisco, but things are surely about to heat up inside the Masonic. Alt-rock pioneers Jane’s Addiction have been on tour this summer to celebrate the 25-year anniversary of their classic second album Ritual de lo Habitual, an LP which sparked an alternative fire upon it’s release. The band’s 1988 debut, Nothing’s Shocking, had generated underground buzz, but hadn’t quite broken through to the mainstream rock ‘n’ roll crowd. Ritual would change that.
When Ritual de lo Habitual hit the streets in the summer of 1990, the alt-rock revolution was still cranking up and Jane’s Addiction were a year away from launching the influential Lollapalooza Festival. The album’s unique blend of heavy guitar rock, dirty funk, atmospheric art-rock psychedelia and downright strangeness was a fresh sound, especially in LA’s hard rock/metal scene. There was something about the band’s unique sonic landscape and gritty vibe of underground Hollywood realism that struck a chord with a wide cross-section of listeners. This ability to appeal to a diverse audience is what made the Lollapalooza tour possible.
But first the band would deliver a triumphant performance at LA’s Universal Ampitheater in May of 1991 that stood out as one of the strongest shows of the era. There was an intense tribal vibe in the pit that night, the likes of which has rarely been approached in the modern rock era. The circumstances included a cutting-edge band at the height of their creative glory (no one knew the band would soon drift apart), playing a big hometown show to an adoring and eclectic audience. The intensity level was a sign that the American music scene was evolving and ready for this truly alternative sound, as the success of that summer’s Lollapalooza tour went on to demonstrate.
Fast forward 25 years and few bands have gotten as much mileage out of their first two albums as Jane’s Addiction. They’ve released a few more over the years, but the material from the first two continues to resonate in such a way that the demand seems to remain constant. Of course some of this has to do with the dynamic duo of charismatic singer / ringleader Perry Farrell and larger than life guitarist Dave Navarro, two of rock’s most colorful characters. Add in a talented multi-dimensional drummer like Stephen Perkins and some heavy bass lines and you’ve got a powerful sound that echoes through the decades (original bassist Eric Avery has once again been replaced by the ever able Chris Chaney.)
Those first two albums also continue to represent a pinnacle of sorts for the classic trio of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll which few other bands have distilled in such a vibrant manner. The 21 October release of the Sterling Spoon box set will commemorate the milestone as well with a six-LP collection spanning the band’s career.
Here at the Masonic, Jane’s Addiction help get the crowd in the early ‘90s mood by bringing along their old friends Fishbone as opening act. Participants in the first Lollapoalooza tour and musical legends in their own right, the Afropunk funk ensemble throws down a vibrant set and it’s no surprise the house is mostly full. The anthemic “Everyday Sunshine” is a triumph, with vocalist Angelo Moore noting that it’s needed “because there’s a lot of dark stuff going on”. The uplifting jam hits the spot with Moore leading the band on a funky feel good trip with a gospel-tinged vibe.
Bassist Norwood Fisher is a presence throughout the set, laying down a groovy low end with his trademark free flowing attitude. “Party at Ground Zero” closes the set with an apocalyptic ska groove that feels just right for this contentious political season. The raucous romp has the whole house getting down and clearly ready for more (and those clamoring for more Fishbone in the Bay Area can get it when the band returns to hit Santa Cruz and Petaluma in the first week of November.)
Jane’s Addiction are billed to play Ritual de lo Habitual in its entirety and they get right down to business by opening the show with the electrifying “Stop”. The lead track has always been a firestarter and it’s no different here as the band kicks their rock ‘n’ roll circus into immediate high gear. Navarro doesn’t need any time to warm up, shredding the first of many molten hot leads. “No One’s Leaving” feels like it’s taken on a deeper meaning over the years and could currently symbolize how fans are still clamoring for the chance to see this music when many of Jane’s contemporaries have long since burned out or faded away.
Chaney and Perkins throw down a smoking groove on “Ain’t No Right” as Farrell takes command on an existential trip through the ages, showing he’s lost none of his swagger when he sings “There’s only pleasure and pain!” The anthemic melodic hook of “Obvious” keeps the energy flowing as Farrell belts out one of the album’s deep cuts, which resonates with extra glory since many fans haven’t heard it in ages.
“Been Caught Stealing” kicks the party into overdrive as the infectious alt-rock classic brings the audience together like one nation under a very funky groove. Yet few funk anthems feature the blistering lead guitar that this one does, with Navarro melting face and showing he’s still one of the hottest players in the land. He also looks like he’s hardly aged at all over the past 25 years, which could lead some to wonder whether Navarro’s heritage is entirely of this earth.
Ritual’s sonic diversity is then on display as the band downshifts from the funky party vibe into the ambient psychedelia of the epic “Three Days”. Perkins powers the song’s extended verse section with a tribal beat that finds the audience falling into a collective groove, leading to more fierce riffage from Navarro. Then its Farrell presiding with a shamanistic aura in the heavy bridge section as sexy burlesque dancers aid the band on a mesmerizing sonic journey.
The floating melody and ringing chords of “Then She Did” brings the room back to terra firma as the band ingeniously blends major and minor keys together, something of a lost art in modern rock. “Of Course” features something of a carnival-esque vibe with Farrell as carney barker, penultimate prelude to the album’s majestic closer “Such a Classic Girl”. The burlesque dancers re-appear as they have at times during the set, completing the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll trilogy with a theatrical elegance.
Before the show continues, Farrell takes a moment to query the audience on who was in attendance at the first Lollapalooza tour in 1991. He responds to a significant cheer by asking how many have kids now and that he wants to meet those kids and have them meet his kids. “They should change the world together”, Farrell suggests with the admirable and confident idealism of a man who did help change the world (or at least the counterculture) with his music and bold vision for bringing bands of different genres together under one festival banner. It’s here that Farrell conjures the optimistic vision of rock’s original socio-cultural revolution in the '60s, keeping alive the bold idea that music can in fact be a force for the positive evolution of the collective consciousness.
The epic power of “Mountain Song” threatens to raise the Masonic roof as the crowd explodes while rocking out to the classic cut from the band’s debut LP Nothing’s Shocking. The kinetic energy of Navarro’s scintillating guitar work and Perkins’ heavy beat recalls the power of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”, a song the band perhaps not coincidentally use to cover (with a 1987 version appearing on their 2009 release Cabinet of Curiosities.) The ladies return with peak presence during “Ted Just Admit It”, with two of them swinging from the rafters on harnesses for one of the band’s great art rock classics. The darkly sexy tune boldly commented in the late ‘80s on how TV news had become “just another show with sex and violence” and how there was “nothing shocking” anymore. The song seems like a prophetic vision, now, with the increasingly sad state of the media and society in 2016.
“Just Because” from 2003’s Strays album (recorded with Chaney on bass) fits right in with the older material, a turbo-charged rocker that pulses with the band’s trademark power as the band cranks it back up. Farrell waxes philosophical one more time at the end of the show, speaking of seeking “a beautiful dream machine” while again encouraging the audience to be the change they want to see in this world gone mad.
The band brings out the traditional steel drums for the “Jane Says” finalé as Navarro moves to acoustic guitar for what’s become one of the alt-rock generation’s true campfire classics. The song is just two chords, but the catchy hook and universal lyrics about a girl’s addiction have come to resonate like few other songs from the era do. Perhaps there’s a lot of people that have had to deal with addicted significant others who can be charming with their angelic side but maddening with their dark side, or maybe it’s just because the lyrics can also apply to anyone trying to make a challenging improvement in their life.
Jane’s Addiction came from a relatively dark place in the Los Angeles music scene, but they used their art to rise above and alter the culture into a more diverse and accepting one. In that sense, Ritual de lo Habitual is testimony to the transcendent and universal power of rock ‘n’ roll.