Portland, Oregon, perhaps my favorite city. The local beer is delicious, the streets are clean, and the book and record stores are interesting. The real draw, though, is its people, who are always kind and gracious.
Here’s how cool of a town Portland is: I tweeted a photo of Wimbot, the Why It Matters mascot, fleeing Powell’s Books and within minutes I was invited out for cocktails. I met my new friends at a bar shaped like a wedge of cheese — one of those narrow on one end buildings that crop up where two streets intersect diagonally. Before the evening was done our now off duty bartender was at our table, too. Good times.
Even the hipster doofi (my new plural for doofus) here are nice enough, with their overly manicured mustaches and their carefully selected eyeglasses. There are plenty of them here tonight at the Keller Auditorium for this stop of Jane’s Addiction’s Theatre of the Escapists tour, but the hipsdoofi (even better) do not dominate this crowd. No, the majority of ticket holders tonight look like me: white, middle-aged, fairly well kempt. There’s a smattering of mulleted old timers in Judas Priest shirts, too. These are the career Guys In Black Tee Shirts Who Jam that attend every show in their region. Tonight there are even a few kids tagging along with their well kempt parents.
Curtain time. Big Black Delta hugs the front lip of the stage in the time-honored opening band tradition. They don’t need much room, though, just enough space for a couple of drum kits, a laptop, and some space for singer Jonathan Bates. Aside from the comically small LED array behind Bates the stage remains just bright enough to make out his carefully cut tee-shirt and his skinny jeans. No matter how cool he dresses, though, you can’t look like a badass while playing a laptop.
The lighting isn’t all that is muddy. Bates’s vocals are completely lost in the techno-industrial prerecorded tracks zeroing and oneing their way from his MacBook. Most of the sound on stage comes down to the two heavily mic’d bass drums. It’s a powerful thing, thumping my chest on the two and the four (one TWO three FOUR / boom BAP boom BAP) but redundant to the point of boredom. The two drummer configuration is familiar from bands like The Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers Band, but there it worked because two talented drummers were doing interesting things. Here it’s just twice as much boom BAP over the prerecorded tracks.
But it’s not all bad news. When the band rips a hard industrial beat they aren’t bad, but when they plunge into the wading pool depths populated by Coldplay they are insufferable. The purpose of an opening act is to get the crowd ready for the headliner. I’m not sure they accomplished that, but I certainly am looking forward to the end of Big Black Delta’s set.
As the roadies ready the Jane’s set we listen to The Smiths and Pink Floyd, which really tells you all that you need to know about Jane’s.
The lights dim and the show opens with an electronic drone like something out of a seventies dystopian sci-fi movie: Pink Floyd’s “Welcome to the Machine.” Navarro appears in the wings and the crowd stirs. They want to get it going.
Roadies lower two dancers into ridiculously large white gowns — they must be twenty-five feet tall — and some sort of thorny creature climbs the ladder at the back of the stage. The band — singer Perry Ferrell, drummer Stephen Perkins, guitarist Dave Navarro, and bassist Chris Chaney — take the stage and launch into “Underground” from 2011’s The Great Escape Artist. They are tight, the mix is great, and Perry is in fantastic voice. Over fifteen songs they remain tight, the mix is great, and Perry is in fantastic voice.
This is what happens when a band more or less stays together for more or less twenty-seven years: the act gets tight, the musicianship laser precise. There’s really nothing about tonight’s show with which to find fault.
I’ve seen at least twenty shows from Perry Ferrell since 1988. Without any hesitation I will state that he is the most engaging front man I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen that guy work crowds of 200 and 20,000. It doesn’t matter — Perry always makes the room small. But tonight he says maybe fifteen words to the crowd. He high fives the front row, but other than that he simply does a good workman-like job of singing and dancing. Even handing off his bottle of wine to the crowd at night’s end feel like another blocked out stage move he’s done a million times.
That’s the fundamental problem with being the old bastard in the fifth row with a couple dozen Jane’s shows under my belt. For the first timer the highlight of tonight’s show might be the sight of Stephen Perkins behind his steel drum smiling at a seated Dave Navarro who is smiling his way through the same rote reading of “Jane Says” that they do every night. Me? I want to jab a pencil into my eye.
But after “Jane Says” they bust out “Chip Away,” a deep cut from the club days that I haven’t heard them play in years. They weren’t even playing it earlier on this tour, so it’s very fresh. “Chip Away” is a welcome addition and for me the true highlight of the night. Jane’s is joined on stage by Portland native and Smashing Pumpkins drummer Mike Byrne along with the guys from Big Black Delta. Stephen and Dave throw in, too, to complete the tribal drumline pounding beneath Perry’s electronically contorted vocals.
Other changes to the recent set list include the addition of “Price I Pay” from Strays and show closer “Summertime Rolls.”
It’s a bit difficult to level professionalism as a criticism of sorts. The truth is that Theatre of the Escapists is a well produced show and you’ll enjoy yourself. But I miss the emcee Perry, the ringmaster, the carnival barker. I hope that guy is back next month for their stop in Davis, California.
Here’s the complete set list for the 9/4/12 Jane’s Addiction show at the Keller Auditorium in Portland, Oregon. There was no encore:
- “Mountain Song”
- “Just Because”
- “Been Caught Stealing”
- “Ain’t No Right”
- “Irresistible Force”
- “Jane Says”
- “Chip Away”
- “Up the Beach”
- “Price I Pay”
- “Ted, Just Admit It…”
- “Splash A Little Water On It”
- “Ocean Size”
- “Summertime Rolls”
And here is a photo gallery from the show. All photos are copyright James Stafford. If you’d like to reuse them please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d greatly appreciate it.