By Paul Robicheau
The guy who once seemed dangerous and mysterious as frontman for Jane’s Addiction proved earnestly accessible to fans.
Perry Farrell’s a character as ocean-sized as the multifaceted waves of dark psychedelia, dub, funk, and metal that he first conjured with the LA band Jane’s Addiction in the late ’80s. He likewise flashes throw-it-against-the-wall stylistic abandon on Kind Heaven, his first solo album in 18 years and the impetus for an immersive Las Vegas experience in the works around a Southeast Asian theme.
But the guy who once seemed dangerous and mysterious as frontman for Jane’s Addiction proved earnestly accessible to fans in the rare intimate setting of City Winery, toasting life in healthier shape to close a two-night stand.
Dapper in a scarf and necklace-accented black vest, the 60-year-old Farrell even signed mid-set autographs and sang separate birthday wishes to a few audience members, quipping that he used to celebrate birthdays by doing drugs — “but wouldn’t go out.” He didn’t seem to care that it slowed down the proceedings. At least his inviting personality somewhat made up for packing two-thirds of the 80-minute show with all nine tracks from Kind Heaven, an ambitious album that’s intriguing in stretches while maddeningly chaotic and unfocused as a whole.
Pacing the stage and kneeling toward the front tables, Farrell pushed high-energy buttons from the start with the new ’60s-flavored garage-blues bop “(Red, White and Blue) Cheerfulness” and thrashing, Jane’s-ish single “Pirate Punk Politician,” even if its jab at Trump (“I’ll cut your job, I’ll raise your rent, ’cause I’m your so-called president”) was tough to grasp in the din. “Machine Girl” lent a seductive “Kept talking, sweet talking” chorus hook, if overshadowed by Farrell’s first lightly erotic dance with wife Etty, one of three backup singers in his nine-piece group.
Other tracks from the album, released just last Friday, provided more variety. The odd “Snakes Have Many Hips” lent a sinuous cabaret feel before the moody, tribal buildup of the surprising high point “Where Have You Been All My Life.” Guitarist Nick Maybury wielded a bow to his Les Paul akin to Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and the frisky Farrell did a double-hop and pointed to the crowd on the final note.
Latter-day Jane’s bassist Chris Chaney helped give fresh cred to Farrell’s later band Porno for Pyros, punctuating “Pets” with echoing bass notes and later anchoring the island undertow of “Tahitian Moon.” The backup singers took that cue to engage in hula moves and the reedy-voiced Farrell characteristically fiddled with his vocal control panel, holding out his microphone to conjure billowing reverb effects.
The mic tricks continued as Farrell finally dipped into the Jane’s pool with a late-set “Jane Said,” capping the chorus with a sustained note before ad-libbing like a horn. He finally added two more big oldies from his famed alt-rock band in a set-closing “Ocean Size” (wound into a pause before the crowd-anticipated riff drop) and encore finale “Mountain Song.” But those numbers lost impact amid lesser tunes like the saturated dance frolic “Spend the Body” and encore opener “Let’s All Pray for This World,” a neo-symphonic offering that may have been worthy in sentiment but fell flat when sandwiched between mammoth Jane’s anthems.
Farrell took full advantage of City Winery, not only to utilize the room’s ring of screens to show videos to some songs but to spread the stage prop of white sage-grass silhouettes around the walls. And the club showed its own potential for bringing alternative rock stars into a smaller room where they settle in on a human scale and let it all fly – in his case, for both better and worse.
Paul Robicheau served as the contributing editor for music in The Improper Bostonian in addition to writing and photography for The Boston Globe, Rolling Stone and other publications.