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“Summer 2020 Would Be a Perfect Time to Get into Jane’s Addiction’s Live in NYC.”


I’m here to shout from the proverbial rooftops the praises of a classic live alternative rock album, one roughly on par with Nirvana’s Live at Reading, Pearl Jam’s Live on Two Legs and Wilco’s Kicking Television: Live in Chicago. It’s by a band that probably influenced all three of those acts, is generally well-liked but is still probably vastly underrated. (Did A/V Club really give The Great Escape Artist an “F”?) It’s by a band with a lead singer many see as an egomaniac and a lead guitarist many see as a prissy, primadonna rock star.

I mean, they’re LA boys. We gotta get under their skin if it’s the last thing we do (he** just ask that A/V Club curmudgeon). Look how they dress. They’re fancy. They think they’re better than us. And they don’t even practice [1], can’t even play their instruments — their hack of a drummer Stephen Perkins fumbling through “Ocean Size” sounding like a little kid playing on a Fisher Price set.

Well, now here’s the real shocker, because the band is actually TIGHT on Live in NYC, and what’s more Dave Navarro is at arguably his most ferocious, making verbose use of distortion pedals and really cementing himself as one of the best guitar soloists since Jimmy Page. Take the version at hand here of “Been Caught Stealing,” one of the band’s two most important singles (the other one being “Jane Says” which saunters in as the encore on this live album) [2], which finds Navarro handling both rhythm AND lead duties, in full command of his instrument but, more importantly, of a conceptual assimilation to his band and their songs. That is, he’s capable of being a virtuoso on his axe but it’s much more important to him, as it seems from this band’s commendable fluidity in barreling through these songs, to simply be the Jane’s Addiction guitarist. And what’s more, as I allude to, even Stephen Perkins seems to have stepped his game up, plastering the grooves with some lockstep, rhythmically eclectic punch.

Jane’s Addiction, I think, is a pretty easy band to like, but at the same time, some find a way not to, or to at least pretend not to, an endeavor I think is undeniably to their peril. Anyway, part of their curse of being misunderstood might simply have to do with nomenclature — they came too early to be “alternative rock” (although again there’s probably not a popular, loud ’90s band that doesn’t extol them as pioneers of the craft, including at least Krist Novoselic of Nirvana). They’re not “grunge” because they’re not from Seattle, they’re not “indie” because they were major label, and they’re definitely not hair metal, death metal or thrash metal, styles typically deemed “cooler” by dudes with overgrown, smelly bears who pretend to read Loudwire.

What they are, anyway, is a pretty able-bodied conduit between Led Zeppelin and grunge, having the moxie then to actually make their songs catchy, anthemic and memorable where others might have favored misanthropic “style” as a pure, beguiling means of avoiding being a “sellout.” Well, when you hear the crowd filling in the chorus to “Been Caught Stealing,” it might hit you that it means more to actually have your songs pervade and spawn emotional connections than it does to construct a background tapestry of scientifically “stylish” music, if you will.

So yeah, this band has “heart,” is what I’m trying to say, a phenomenon I think I’ve successfully explicated or attempted to explicate (not sure which would be more common) countless times on this site, finding it way easier said than done. But Live in NYC has a FEEL to it — there’s a palpable sense the listener gets from the purposeful dictions behind songs like “Just Because” (which boasts the line “When was that last time you did something / Just because?”, a lyrical swatch which Farrell in banter slots as the whole reasoning behind his being a rock and roll musician) and “Ted, Just Admit it,” which features the repeated mantra of “Sex is violent” and made its way onto the soundtrack of Oliver Stone’s stupefying Natural Born Killers (1994), that this band has from day one been true originals [3] and have answered to exactly no one when fomenting their distinct lyrical axioms. Intriguingly, too, the setlist for this show goes way heavy on the old classics, some others being “Mountain Song” and “Stop!”, with “Irresistible Force (Met the Immovable Object)” [4] being the only song off their most recent album, the albeit laudable The Great Escape Artist [5], which still stands as their last album to this day.

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[1] This was one exact plaint from the Rolling Stone scribe who allotted two stars to JA’s second album Ritual de lo Habitual, an album I happen to really like. There are no bad Jane’s Addiction albums in my opinion.

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[2] Along these lines, it just seems to JA to me to cut a live album in one clip, just depicting one whole show (rather than culling from multiple dates) as if the listener is actually at the concert. Whether or not it’s a good show almost seems beside the point — the single show selection goes part and parcel with being honest and having nothing to hide, a component Perry Farrell’s charismatic stage banter will also support.

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[3] They’re even still a quartet and have the same instrumentation they had on their debut, the only lineup change being the bassist switch to Chris Chaney for 2003’s Strays and everything thereafter.

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[4] On The Great Escape Artist, the song is simply titled “Irresistible Force,” but it is the same tune.

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[5] That “F” rating from the A/V Club is just appalling to me, for one because at least this song in particular is very trippy and original, furnishing the idea that the creation of our universe entailed this exact phenomenon of an irresistible force meeting an immovable object, and that we’re living within such a phenomenological condition to this day. It also bespeaks though just the garish lack of respect certain parties have for this band, who likely see them as fancy, conceited California boys or whatever.

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