For a veteran band renowned for their live shows, Jane’s Addiction has released remarkably few live albums. In fact, this is only the second full-length live set in the band’s 25+ year career, and the first to be labeled as such.
Finding live Jane’s tracks isn’t much of a challenge. Their eponymous debut album was recorded live at the Roxy, for example, and the band has included live cuts on box sets, videos, DVDs, and imports. Then there are the bootlegs, many of which have been featured here in “From the Stacks” pieces (see the Table of Contents or search the site for “Jane’s Addiction”). And finally, thanks to cellphones and the intergooglewebtubes, crowd clips are plentiful.
All that stuff is great, but there’s nothing like a professionally recorded and mixed show selected by the band and, probably, sweetened.
“Sweetening” a live recording means to add a little extra crowd noise (Jane’s first album used crowd noise from a Los Lobos show), tweak an out of tune guitar, fix a wayward beat, or re-record a problematic verse or two. Keep in mind there’s a big difference between recording and performing. On stage is all about the show — running around, working the crowd, etc. Things occasionally go a little sideways. What’s the harm of fixing a blown verse?
For years this has been a problem for some music nerds who insist that sweetening is akin to lying, or at the very least rewriting history. Live in NYC is a record of the July 25, 2011 show at Terminal 5, after all. One wouldn’t edit out the flames in the Hindenburg footage, the argument seems to go, so why mess around with a rock show?
But I grew up on classics like Frampton Comes Alive!, KISS Alive!, and Aerosmith Live! Bootleg. Not only am I reminded that we hadn’t hit peak exclamation point back in the seventies, but I could give fuck-all if those albums were sweetened. All that matters is that those are kick ass records.
And that’s exactly what Live in NYC is — a kick ass album. Ever since my first Jane’s show, back when my money to hair ratio was exactly the opposite of today’s figures, I’ve been trying to convince non-believers that the band’s studio albums don’t capture the Jane’s vibe. The band itself is a tight unit both on stage and in the studio, so the magic can’t be attributed to Dave Navarro’s live guitar virtuosity. It doesn’t matter where that guy plays, he always shreds.
Similarly, nobody goes to a Jane’s show and expects drummer Stephen Perkins to drive off a cliff. He’s as surgically precise of a percussionist as they come. His partner in the rhythm section, bassist Chris Chaney, always holds down the bottom line like a metronome.
So the band today is just as tight on stage as off, but it wasn’t always like that. Janes 1.0 shows always promised to careen out of control and into greatness or disaster (usually greatness) thanks to youth, drugs, and post-punk recklessness. This was the band that once walked off stage mid-set, leaving their lead singer to explain to the press that “the sex wasn’t any good, so rather than fake an orgasm I put on my clothes and left.”
There is your X-factor, your unknown variable. What is front man Perry Ferrell going to say? What’s he going to do? That’s the voodoo that studio recordings don’t capture.
The set list here is as finely tuned as the band, no deep cuts or surprises for the Jane’s addicted. Nine of the twelve cuts on Live in NYC come from the band’s two best known albums, Nothing’s Shocking and Ritual de lo Habitual, and that’s okay. I love those songs. There’s a good reason that “Play ‘Freebird'” became a punchline: people enjoying listening to familiar tunes. Hearing “Up the Beach” and “Ocean Size” played together again almost makes up for having yet another version of “Jane Says” in my stacks.
The real keeper here, though, is The Great Escape Artist’s “Irresistible Force.” This is pure goosebump music, and according to Perry’s stage patter this is the first time the band played the track for an audience:
That stage patter is what makes Live in NYC a must-have. No front man works a crowd better than Perry, and you get a good taste of that on this album. He clowns a hipster in the crowd while at the same time identifying himself as one; he outs himself as a pampered, greedy rock star then kicks the pedestal out from under that legend by introducing himself as Perry Bernstein, local boy; he tells the crowd he wants to please them, and then in the same breath claims not to care and oddly both seem true.
The brilliance of Perry Ferrell is that he’s equal parts carnival barker, Rat Pack-style entertainer, flake, adolescent, businessman, and rock star. When that mouth of his is in motion there’s no telling which Perry is going to come out, and I don’t mean from night to night but rather word to word. All those Perrys sometimes emerge in a single sentence, and when they do the results are nothing if not entertaining.
Live in NYC is available in a standard, music-only edition and as a deluxe package that includes a DVD of the show. I’ll be honest, I haven’t watched the DVD and don’t know whether I will. I’m having too much fun enjoying my own concert in my head, car stereo cranked until the windows shake or headphones blasting in my darkened bedroom. It’s like KISS Alive! all over for me, and that’s well worth the price of admission.