Perry Farrell had a new band, and they were playing in the desert outside of L.A.
I wasn’t going to miss it. I missed Jane’s Addiction at the Palladium due to ego and stupidity. I liked Jane’s when they were a club band, not like those “Been Caught Stealing” bandwagon poseurs. I missed Lollapalooza for the same nonsense reason.
Classic Jane’s shows weren’t the only ones I missed. My young life is a laundry list of great shows missed due to “to cool” posturing. I skipped the Police at Atlanta’s Omni, a show that was taped and broadcast. I passed up Prince in a 3,000 seater on the 1999 tour because “I don’t like that pop shit.” Nirvana pre-Nevermind at a 500 capacity Hollywood club? No thanks.
I don’t know that I’m much better today. Sure, I’ll cover any gig for a paycheck, but that’s work. On my own time I remain turned off by the pressure of buzz. Taylor Swift and Adele might be brilliant, but I’ll never hear them unless I pick up an assignment requiring me to do so, and if I do I’ll be fair. That may sound disingenuous, but there’s a distinct difference. If I’m hired to listen to or watch something, what I’m really being paid for is my ability to assess that thing objectively within its own context. On the other hand, in my personal life pop culture bias acts like a filter. There’s so much content out there — so many books, movies, and albums. “If everybody likes it and it’s broadly marketed, be suspicious” cuts the pile down to a more manageable size. I may have missed some shows over the decades that in retrospect I regret, but then again I never fell for disco, Debbie Gibson, Poison, Creed, or Nickelback. The filter works more often than it fails.
Where I’m much better now than I was as a younger person is that once something makes its way through the filter I’ll embrace it regardless of popular opinion. Liking Frampton Comes Alive! buys me no cred with the cool kids, but I remain a fan. I’m convinced that Dumb and Dumber is a clever, well written, entertaining movie that is criticized by snobs who’ve never bothered to watch it. KISS shows are entertaining, Pringles are delicious, and “Don’t Stop Believing” is a great but seriously fucked out song.
Anyway, Porno For Pyros. Perry was back in business, and I wanted to see what he was up to. I drove out to the desert, where a stage stood in the middle of nowhere. There must have been Port-A-Johns and food and drink vendors, but aside from the stage the only fixture that I remember is a star trailer parked to the left of the stage.
The opening band didn’t even have an album. They were just some local L.A. band that apparently had a record deal, but that wasn’t saying much. They hit the dusty stage to the apathetic applause that always greets unknown openers, and then they proceeded to burn the place down, or they would have if there had been anything but sand in a five mile radius. The rhythm section was funky, their guitarist easily the most innovative I’d heard since Eddie Van Halen. He riffed, but he also played what Zappa would have called “stunt guitar,” somehow managing to scratch on the instrument as if it were a turntable. Up front was a seriously pissed off kid with an MC5 afro who screamed rhymes like the future of mankind depended on it.
By the time they got to their chant-along “fuck you I won’t do what you tell me” chorus they owned that desert crowd. That’s how Rage Against the Machine made it through my filter. It was a desert guerrilla attack, no chance for the hype machine to make me wary of the next big thing.
Between sets people buzzed about what they’d just seen. Perry poked his head through the curtains of the trailer next to the stage and everyone screamed. He disappeared, then reemerged with a young woman, then back again behind the curtain. A few moments passed and then the woman pressed her bare tits against the window to the accompaniment of the requisite hoots and hollers. Next Perry stood in the window and flapped his cock around like a sea lion slapping a fish on the water’s surface. The whole thing was an arms race of exhibitionism. The louder the crowd screamed, the farther Perry and his companion went until we were watching him fuck her from behind as she stared at us through the window and waved.
None of that sounds terribly charming, but the thing about Perry is that he could read a crowd better than any front man I’ve ever seen. If he sensed the crowd wanted to watch him eat soup, he would’ve posted up at the trailer window with a Cup O’ Noodles.
When Porno For Pyros finally took the stage, he played that audience like an instrument. Someone threw a string of lit firecrackers on stage, and Perry ran over and danced over them. They didn’t play a single Jane’s song or cover, and they didn’t have an album out. It was only the band’s third show, so we were all hearing those songs for the first time. That’s dangerous territory for an established artist, where “here’s a new one” usually signals a mass exodus for the bathrooms. The crowd didn’t care that they didn’t know the songs, they just enjoyed hanging out with Perry. At one point an enormous mosh pit opened up, the mass of bodies sending a tornado of sand spinning counter-clockwise into the night sky.
Nine months later, the band’s first studio album was released, followed by heavy rotation for novelty single “Pets.” Many Jane’s old timers hated the record, claiming that Perry sold out and Porno For Pyros was a gutless pop album. Not me, though. They were through the filter. I dug that album, and I still do.