All words: Andrew Blake — All photos: Kevin Hulse
Perry Farrell is the fucking mayor of Chicago. Forget what you’ve heard about Coach Ditka and Michael Jordan, and let’s not mention that the whole country knows Rahm Emmanuel is in enough shit as it is. At a time when the Windy City is suffering from a homicide epidemic—literally—they can at least always count on having a savior for sorts in a 53-year-old ex-junkie-turned-America’s ambassador to alternative rock.
For one weekend a year, at least.
Farrell revived his Lollapalooza festival in 2005 and has hosted it in Chicago’s Grant Park for a few days every year since. Ticket sales surges shortly after he reintroduced his one-time concert tour and Chi-Town offered Lolla a ten-year contract to stay in the city, allowing Farrell to go from transforming the concert grounds at Grant Park into his playground to pretty much making the entire city his personal mistress without a safety word of any sorts.
Farrell didn’t perform once at this year’s Lolla but that didn’t mean he couldn’t have a good time. In years past he has hosted after parties at bougie downtown nightclubs and spun records at private VIP shindigs, but this year the modern rock legend booked Chicago’s historic Aragon Theatre for a performance by Jane’s Addiction, despite the iconic alternative group he’s fronted since the mid-80s not even appearing on the festival’s line-up.
Why? Because Perry Farrell can and he knows it.
Jane’s sold out the 4,500-person theatre in mere minutes in one of the more remarkable after parties that followed Lolla weekend this year. Maybe it was the absence of a formal festival gig that kept Farrell and company from blowing their proverbial wad at Lolla, but the band — even at their age — still showed up most other acts in town for the weekend. Even shirtless and donning a fedora, a 45-year-old Dave Navarro still knows how to shred.
Although they are currently on the road to promote a new album, last year’s The Great Escape Artist, Jane’s rarely relied on material from their most recent record to power through an hour-long set, opening the gig just after midnight with that record’s “Underground” and only revisiting that disc twice more during their show. Instead of forcing fans to endure their latest offering, Farrell and friends opted to deliver a majority of the group’s early singles. “Mountain Song,” “Ocean Size,” “Stop!” and “Been Caught Stealing” all made it to the setlist, with the band opting for their more well known numbers in lieu of new tunes, throwbacks and deep cuts. Earlier this tour the group revisited oldies such as “Then She Did” and “Classic Girl” from 1990’s Ritual de lo Habitual, but for a show that was only a few weeks in the making, the band found themselves all too apt to treat the ticketholders to a greatest-hits of heroin-infused glam rock from the incubatory stage of grunge than anything that ran the risk of being considered unrecognized or a rarity: Farrell forwent preaching of a drug-fused orgy with an underage heroin user and his ex fling with fan favorite “Three Days,” instead relying on stagehands to steer a steel drum into the spotlight percussionist Stephen Perkins could perform the group’s signature track “Jane Says” true to its recorded form.
That isn’t to say the show was without any surprises whatsoever, though. In addition to distracting the crowd with a eerily choreographed stage show that at times called for tip-toeing robots and what appeared to be the saddest of clowns committing mock suicide on stage, the band brought up guest guitarist Peter Distefano to perform “Cursed Female,” a tune he recorded with Farrell and Perkins for their first album as Porno For Pyros two decades earlier.
Whether he meant it to be tongue-in-cheek or not, Farrell at one point tell his fans, “It sucks that rock and roll is dead.” Twenty years after unleashing Lollapalooza on the world and, as a result, Nine Inch Nails, Rollins Band, Green Day and a gaggle of others, the frontman very well could have a point. Even with headlining spots this year set aside for Black Sabbath and At The Drive-In reunions, the bands that peppered the festival bill were this time around were more centered on a single DJ than this generation’s Dave Navarro.
But besides, can any of the fresh meat that made its way to this generation’s Lolla slam a bottle of red wine on stage like Farrell? Even if he’s past the half-century mark, he clearly isn’t going to let the demise of rock and roll ruin things for him. And 4,500 fans agreed Saturday night in Chicago.