Reviewed: Jane’s Addiction/The Pretenders
Classic Rock does two gigs in one night and ponders Jane’s Addiction and The Pretenders…
Jane’s Addiction, 02 Arena, London
The Pretenders, Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London
To be honest, I’m just here for Eric.
Since the original Jane’s Addiction split, Dave Navarro has built himself some kind of career as the Errol Flynn of alt.rock – the dashing, nipple-pierced, always topless, always-up-for-it, guitar hero. He gets the loudest cheer tonight, but listen to classic Jane’s today (Nothing’s Shocking and Ritual) and you’ll be hard pushed to find guitar playing to rave about. At best, Navarro married Bauhaus to Van Halen (and to fine effect: dissonant soundscapes knocking heads with blazing solos) but the appeal of Jane’s isn’t in great guitar riffs or memorable solos, or even in Stephen Perkins’ brilliant drumming. It’s about two things: Perry Farrell’s lyrics and Eric Avery’s bass playing.
Perry’s lyrics – a unique, cliché-free mix of Jim Morrison-style rebellion via Bob Marley-style heart (and patois)* – aren’t well served tonight. Farrell neither hits the notes nor keeps time and he sounds permanently behind his juggernaut of a band. Maybe he’s distracted, maybe overstretched – he does have the thankless task of playing to a half-empty O2 Arena without the aid of big screens, a ridiculous and frankly impossible ask. If you’re gonna play to 20,000 people (even if the reality is only 12,000) you ought to come armed. From our seats at the back (warning: booking seat 666 might seem funny at the time, but you might want to bring some binoculars) there is no drama, no spectacle – just the sound of a band trying to come to terms with it’s status over here.
The band’s first appearance by the band in the UK since the return of Eric Avery to the fold should be A Big Deal. Jane’s Addiction were one of THE band of the 90s, with the depth and excitement that Kurt Cobain aspired to but could only dream of; a truly progressive band (in an age where ‘prog’ was a dirty word) where influences as varied as Rush and the Cocteau Twins duked it out with funk, goth and big dumb metal for dominance. But while Nirvana had their Big Moment with Teen Spirit and Nevermind, in the UK even Been Caught Stealing was only an underground hit. And so here they are, second on the bill to Nine Inch Nails, and sounding past their best.
They’re playing a secret gig in a 200 capacity venue in London tonight – maybe it’ll reinvigorate them.
(And Eric? Despite wearing what looked from the back like a pair of day-glo Clown Shoes, Eric was awesome. From the sinuous bassline of opener Three Days, through Been Caught Stealing’s funk rollercoaster to the gigantic Mountain Song, it’s all about Eric – and always has been.)
From the Dome in Greenwich, Classic Rock jumps on a tube for the long ride across town to the Shepherd’s Bush Empire and The Pretenders. On Sunday, CR saw the band sandwiched between the Lightning Seeds (surely one of the top three Worst Bands Ever?) and the Sugababes at the Cornbury Music Festival in Oxfordshire. A line-up like that suggests that the audience aren’t exactly hardcore music fans. And they’re not. Cornbury has not been nicknamed ‘poshfest’ for nothing – more a giant garden party than a rock festival, it’s a middle-class family day out, all picnic blankets and Pimms and lemonade, darling, where the gangs of kids roaming around are more likely to be checking out each other’s designer labels than downing a sneaky pint of cider or sharing fags. (“It’s like a Boden catalogue come to life,” says my missus.)
The cosy surroundings bring out the very best in The Pretenders, who come on to the frantic rockabilly of new album opener Boots Of Chinese Plastic, and in the next hour or so make new tracks like Don’t Cut Your Hair, Break Up The Concrete, Love’s A Mystery and Rosalee sound as vital and classic as any of their hits, Chrissie Hynde a note-perfect, high-kicking, shape-throwing class-A rock star. If they could do that at Cornbury, what would they be like in a club?
So here we are, at our second gig of the night. In sharp contrast to Jane’s, we can actually SEE the band and the sound – both the audio and the delivery – is perfect. But in contrast to Cornbury, surrounded by fans, the band (naturally) bristles less, are (understandably) less defiant. Ironically it makes for a less interesting gig but leaves you time to consider the plight of The Pretenders. A classic band with a more than their fair share of hits, with an iconic front woman/songwriter blessed with an amazing voice – why isn’t Chrissie Hynde afforded the same sort acclaim as a Tom Petty or an Elvis Costello? Why was their new album released over here months after it’s US release (by which time presumably all UK fans had bought it)? And why was it packaged as a ‘Greatest Hits’ collection with a bonus new album (instead of the other way around)? And why are they playing festivals sandwiched between the LightningbastardSeeds and the Sugababes?
I don’t know the answer to those questions – and, maybe, considering it means we get to see them up close or full of hell and kicking arse, just maybe, it’s better this way.
* My favourite Jane’s lyrics, from No One’s Leaving: “My sister and her boyfriend slept in the park/Had to leave home because he was dark/Now they parade around New York with a baby boy/He’s gorgeous” When did anyone ever describe a baby as gorgeous in a rock song and get away with it? The next lines are the killer pay-off: “Blacks call each other brother and sis/Count me in cos I been missed/I’ve seen colour changed by a kiss/Ask my brother and my sis-ter…”