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Give any band enough time, and it will inevitably turn into an oldies act. Consider Jane’s Addiction, once the coolest band in the land but nowadays a group that evokes an aging stripper who still has the moves and not much else.
Jane’s Addiction played Memorial Auditorium Tuesday night, drawing a half-full house consisting mostly of folks old enough to have witnessed the band’s early-1990s peak as creators of the Lollapalooza Festival. Two decades on, Lollapalooza still exists as an über-hip alternative-rock festival in Chicago. Jane’s, meanwhile, is still partying like it’s 1991. Fully two-thirds of Tuesday’s set list consisted of songs from more than 20 years ago, resulting in a performance as oldies-heavy as Van Halen’s show last month.
Back in its day, Jane’s was less a band than a moment in time. “Nothing’s Shocking,” declared the title of the group’s first big-league album 24 years ago, and it evoked the pornography of everyday life – the sex and violence lurking beneath pretty placid suburban surfaces. Jane’s Addiction dragged all that out into the open and made it a communal experience, as disturbing as it was glorious.
In 1988, when “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” was as much a socio-political mindset as a chart-topping hit, that made sense. In 2012, when everything is already out in the open and titillation beyond your sickest fantasy is just an Internet connection away, there’s something almost quaint about Jane’s Addiction’s pervy peep-show vibe. Creepy as it is, it’s just kind of pointless.
But they’re still serving it up, because that’s seemingly all they’ve got. Tuesday’s show featured plenty of visual accompaniment, including a couple of scantily clad female dancers and a dude who did weird things while wearing strange outfits. During “Twisted Tales,” he was done up like the Elephant Man and flinging baby dolls around.
The sound was a muddy roar (which didn’t stop one of the guys behind the sound board from literally jumping up and down), but the fact that frontman Perry Farrell’s vocals were virtually unintelligible throughout the show was not a huge deal. It’s always been about the sound of his sonic-boom voice, not the words.
“Up the Beach” demonstrated this in spades, communicating plenty of angst with Farrell’s wordless howl soaring over guitarist Dave Navarro’s crushing riffage. “Been Caught Stealing” was also effective, thanks to a groove that’s still as unstoppable as it was in 1990.
But too many other songs just fizzled on the launch pad, and it was hard to figure out why the show wasn’t more engaging. The band still played well, and its sonic template remains one of the most distinctive in contemporary rock, even if the newer songs from last year’s “The Great Escape Artist” didn’t seem like much.
Ultimately, it all seemed hollow, signifying ... not much. Maybe it was because everyone, audience as well as band, is just too much older (if not wiser) by now. Or maybe it was the fact that Jane’s has never evolved and grown beyond its moment.
The last song played Tuesday night was “Stop!” At this point, sad to say, that wouldn’t be bad advice.
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