DVD Review: Jane’s Addiction "Voodoo Live"

DVD Review: Jane’s Addiction "Voodoo Live"
Eagle Vision
All Access Review:  B+

Part Oscar Wilde, part Liberace, with a little bit of P.T. Barnum thrown in for good measure, Perry Farrell played the pied piper of excess and debauchery to wide acclaim in the late ‘80s and early-‘90s, leading Jane’s Addiction out of the L.A. underground and into the light of alternative-rock godhead with dark, puzzling lyrics, controversial album covers and a sound that was impossible to define. Freely sexual and embracing the ethos of “better living through chemistry,” Ferrell wanted to party and indulge in orgies, while grunge, handcuffed to a pipe in its own dank cellar of cynicism and despair, tapped into the angst and anger of America’s flannel-clad youth and simply overwhelmed the recording industry.

There was no room for self-pity in Jane’s Addiction. With a guitarist in Dave Navarro whose chops were dizzying, frenetic and atmospheric, plus a rhythm section – drummer Stephen Perkins and bassist Eric Avery – that laid down powerful, seductive grooves, Jane’s Addiction offered subversive poetry that plumbed the same depths of humanity Lou Reed did with the Velvet Underground, along with a multi-faceted, visionary attack that embraced art-rock, hard funk, psychedelia, island rhythms, punk, dark wave and heavy metal. And it had Farrell, a Dionysian showman in the tradition of Jim Morrison, only not quite so bent on self-destruction.

Almost 20 years removed from their heyday, the original Jane’s Addiction lineup reunited in 2009, performing on Halloween night in New Orleans – what better setting could there possibly be for a revival of their surreal alternative-rock circus? “Voodoo Live,” a new concert DVD from Eagle Vision, captured the band’s colorfully theatrical live set at the Voodoo Experience, a thrilling, captivating performance that again makes you wonder why, oh why, they’ve only given the world a scant catalog of just two sensational studio albums, one lukewarm comeback LP (2003’s Strays) and an early live manifesto.

Amid smoke and ever-changing colored lights, an older, but no less dangerous, Jane’s Addiction put on its own Mardi Gras, complete with a pair of burlesque dancers performing x-rated stunts with and without Farrell. Opening with a hypnotic “Up The Beach” before launching into the rumbling, Zeppelin-like avalanche of chords that rolls down “Mountain Song” and “Ain’t No Right,” Jane’s Addiction fires on all cylinders. Down-shifting for a spell, Jane’s plunge into the moody, enthralling abyss of “Three Days” and the track’s somewhat jazzy, not-so-distant cousin “Then She Did …” before blitzing through the frenzied classic “Been Caught Stealing” and the funked-out “Stop.”

Looking resplendently alien in a glitzy cape and bodysuit and occasionally guzzling a bottle of wine, Farrell takes care to acknowledge the hardships New Orleans has seen in recent years and the city’s ability to recover. To salve their wounds, he and the band offer the massive waves of sonic bewilderment that pound away in “Ocean Size” and a wonderfully life-affirming “Jane Says,” where the band is joined onstage by what seem like a hundred costumed partygoers in joyous celebration of putting off rehab for one euphoric night of glorious insobriety.

Accompanied by a New Music Express featurette on Jane’s return, plus two scorching, up-close-and-personal live versions of “1%” and “Ocean Size” performed in a tight, sweaty little club, with the crowd right in their faces, “Voodoo Live” is a quintessential Jane’s Addiction experience, even if Farrell’s somewhat weakened vocals don’t always match the intensity of what’s going on behind him. The camera work, clear with images coming at you from a variety of angles, is professional and thankfully free of tricks, and even if there’s a paucity of extras and Farrell’s voice isn’t what it used to be, this DVD is still remarkable. And Farrell’s charisma is magnetic, with Navarro, Avery and Perkins, often seen in grotesque masks as he bashes away at his drum kit, giving absolutely jaw-dropping performances, their playing the perfect balance of passion, precision and unpredictable direction.

-         - Peter Lindblad

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