Perry Farrell is a prototypical L.A. story. The son of a diamond dealer (born Perry Bernstein) heads West from Queens, N.Y., and remakes himself as the pansexual, dionysian frontman for Jane’s Addiction, achieving fame as he gets others to buy into his fantasies. Since breaking up Jane’s in 1991, Farrell has gone on to become an alt-rock version of P.T. Barnum or Buffalo Bill Cody, a man who loves large gestures, as his vision for the touring Lollapalooza and ENIT festivals made clear. He’s a fascinating figure, a true believer in the power of good vibes even if his latest obsession, Jubilee, an amorphous melding of his Jewish and mystic beliefs, feels like what happens when you read the Kabbalah on ecstasy.
But Farrell’s ambitions need cash flow, so like leap years, presidential campaigns or Rolling Stones tours, Jane’s Addiction reconvenes every four years or so. With no new material, the band is now Farrell’s personal way-back machine — a Jane’s Addiction show allows both the band and it’s fans to party like it’s 1991.
Still, nostalgia must not be what it used to, as less than two-thirds of the Bowl was filled. To its credit, the band does not shirk its duties. Farrell refuses to admit to serving up warmed-over material, performing with an adamantine conviction as he exhorts the crowd with cheers for Los Angeles.
If anything, Jane’s is a more powerful performing unit than in the past. Guitarist Dave Navarro is a shirtless dervish on stage, his chunky riffs linking with Stephen Perkins’ powerful, snaky drums to create a slinky, sexy atmosphere. Martyn Le Noble (sitting in for original bassist Eric Avery) is a better fit than Flea, who toured with Jane’s in 1997.
That doesn’t keep the music from being derivative Led Zep meets the Doors — all eastern drones and mannered vocals. Still, songs such as “Ocean-size, Mountain Song” and “Stop” achieve an epic grandeur.
But the energy fades when the band moves to a smaller stage in the middle of the amphitheater. After sing-along versions of “Jane Says” and “Classic Girl,” the performance shifts to showcase non-Jane’s material. An unexpected appearance by guitarist Peter DiStephano gave Porno for Pyros’ “Pets” a sentimental jolt, but Navarro’s “Hunger” and especially Farrell’s “Happy Birthday Jubilee” felt out of place.
Nevertheless, Farrell is a consummate showman, and if the music sometimes falters, he makes sure there is always something to look at — plumed showgirls, confetti-spewing clowns, jugglers.
Farrell knows the value of a great entrance, arriving on stage in an oversized dress from which a dozen or so dancers emerge as the band plays “Kettle Whistle.” If he can’t be the everyman he aspires to be, at least his dress can contain multitudes. What he can’t contain is the Bowl’s curfew, and the band had to leave the stage after two hours without performing an encore.
The much-anticipated return of Courtney Love was something of an embarrassment. “Hi, we’re Molly Hatchet,” she joked as she stepped on stage. The unlamented Southern boogie band could only have been an improvement over Love’s slapdash set.
Backed by a four-piece band that included former Redd Kross member Steven McDonald on guitar and original Hole drummer Patty Semel, their 35-minute set was breathtakingly awful: unrehearsed, rambling, incoherent and out of control.
Ranting that the audience was eating during her set, she tossed a pumpkin into the crowd and led a group of fans in a conga line. Mixing Hole songs such as “Malibu” and “Live Through This” with undistinguished new material such as “All the Drugs in the World,” she refused to leave the stage after her allotted time was up. Telling the crew that “Perry Farrell can punch me” if he wanted her off, she remained on stage for nearly 40 minutes after the plug was pulled, playing acoustic guitar to the front rows until she was bodily removed to the wings.