“I hear there’s an election coming. Don’t vote for that Conservative p****!” In praise of Jane’s Addiction, the band who invented the 90s

Jane's Addiction, live at Bush Hall, London, 23 May 2024
Jane's Addiction, live at Bush Hall, London, 23 May 2024 (Image credit: Brad Merrett/Future)

Back in 1991, I got a ticket to see Jane’s Addiction at Glasgow Barrowland. I was 20 and, although they were the hottest fucking band in the world, I didn’t know anyone else that liked them. That usually didn’t stop me but, on this night, I talked myself out of it.

They’re on their second album, I thought, they’ll be back next year. The band split a few months later.

I have waited 33 years to see Perry Farrell, Dave Navarro, Eric Avery and Stephen Perkins on the same stage. 

Jane’s Addiction split just one year into the 90s and they’d already done as much as anyone to define the decade.

Bear with me, there’s a lot to unpack.

Jane's Addiction, live at Bush Hall, London, 23 May 2024

Jane's Addiction, live at Bush Hall, London, 23 May 2024 (Image credit: Brad Merrett/Future)

Consider this: in 1988, the same year Jane’s Addiction released their debut studio album, Nothing’s Shocking, Guns N’ Roses released the mini-album, GN'R Lies

On the track, One In A Million, Axl Rose complained about “Police and n*****s” and “immigrants and f****ts”. Of the last two, he sang: “They make no sense to me/They come to our country/And think they'll do as they please/Like start some mini-Iran/Or spread some fucking disease”.

As Farrell would sing: “Everybody has their own opinions”. By contrast, Farrell was writing songs of inter-racial love and tolerance:

My sister and her boyfriend slept in the park
Had to leave home because he was dark
Now they parade around in New York
With a baby boy, he's gorgeous!

Blacks call each other brother and sis'
Count me in because I been missed
I've seen color changed by a kiss
Go ask my brother and my sis-ter

Axl sang of isolation and division. Perry sought community:  “I wish I knew everyone's nickname,” he sang on No One’s Leaving

All their slang and all their sayings
Every way to show affection
How to dress to fit the occasion
And I wish we all waved…

In the twisted logic of One In A Million, Axl warned “radicals and racists” to get off his back. (I mean, what? Racists? It’s the classic racist switcheroo: “If you call me out then YOU’RE the racist. You’re racist against, like, idiots.”) He’s just a small town white boy, he says, tryin' to make ends meet. He doesn’t understand all these people with their funny languages.

Perry, meanwhile, was looking for love at the end of the world. The world is loaded, lit to pop, God is dead and all he wants is his girl at his side. Axl sang about babys and sexy girls, darlins and honeys, and “you better turn me on tonight” – and in case we missed it, actually fucked someone on the mic for Rocket Queen – and Farrell sang about his ‘classic girl’. He and his girlfriend “don't wear no shoes/Her nose is painted pepper sunlight/She loves me, I mean, it's serious/As serious can be”. He’s got compassion for Jane, in Jane Says. On Then She Did…, he sings a song to a dead lover and his mother, who took her own life. Say hello to her, he says.

Trent Reznor took the Sex Is Violence part of Ted, Just Admit It... for the soundtrack of Natural Born Killers and maybe it tainted Jane’s for some as a band of edgelords, dark and brutal. In fact, their music was tender – “Like a tooth aching in a jawbone” – music about love affairs, sex and infatuation.

When people raved about Nirvana a couple of years later, this was my benchmark. Jane’s had set a pretty high bar. Nirvana couldn’t reach it.

Dave Navarro of Jane's Addiction

Dave Navarro: "like the most handsome, swashbuckling rock star that’s ever lived" (Image credit: Brad Merrett/Future)

Then there’s the music. I interviewed Dave Navarro in 2001. He was friends with Robin Guthrie of the Cocteau Twins, he said. He loved Will Sergeant’s playing on the Bunnymen records. He compared Daniel Ash of Bauhaus to Jimmy Page: not a technician but an ideas man

If your antenna was fixed on right 1988-90, Jane’s Addiction were the best band in the world, the bridge between Van Halen and alternative rock. Here was rock music that schmooshed together Van Halen and The Doors, with a bass player who taught himself to play by listening to Peter Hook on Joy Division and New Order records and a drummer who grew up with jazz and Motown, got into metal and then discovered Joy Division and the Banshees. 

They were everything you want from a rock band: imperious, poetic, tender, violent, dangerous, hypnotic – and they looked crazy.

Perry pitched his voice high, like so many heavy metal singers, cutting through the sturm und drang, but it wasn’t a heavy metal voice. And the words he sang weren’t like the lyrics of other bands.

They were the greatest band of the 90s who never actually existed in the 90s. Instead, Jane’s invented the fucking 90s. With the launch of Lollapalooza, Perry Farrell brought together what he called the “alternative nation”: rock, punk, goth, hip-hop. It took underground music mainstream. They just weren’t around to reap the rewards.

Jane's Addiction, live at Bush Hall, London, 23 May 2024

Perry Farrell: "Like Peter Capaldi’s Malcolm Tucker but dressed as an air steward" (Image credit: Brad Merrett/Future)

The Bush Hall holds 400 people. I meet a ton of people I know. 

I meet a lovely woman I used to work with who recently fought cancer and is friends with Stephen Perkins. She has never seen him play with Jane’s.

I meet a friend who, as a teenage goth, first saw them 35 years ago, supporting Fields Of The Nephilim. “I was a goth. In a poncho. I thought what the fuck is THIS?!” They became his favourite band.

He’s with a woman who’s 33. She wasn’t even born then.

I meet some younger guy I used to work with a decade ago. He looks exactly the same. 

“Man, you haven’t changed!” I tell him.

He sizes me up to return the compliment but instead he says: “You’re looking a bit-“ and he pulls his cheeks in the international sign language for “podgy”. The cheeky cunt.

They are epic. Perry looks like Peter Capaldi’s Malcolm Tucker but dressed as, I dunno, an air steward. “I hear there’s an election coming,” he says. “Do not vote for that conservative prick. Good things are coming.” 

Eric is bent double, all low-end, low-slung menace. Perkins is a powerhouse. Dave Navarro looks the same (ie like the most handsome, swashbuckling rock star that’s ever lived). Sometimes I am cruel and think that Dave's reputation for being a great guitarist is similar to the way that David Beckham has a reputation for being a great footballer – ie he looks the part, if nothing else. But who am I kidding? He’s awesome. Unpredictable, original, shreds like a bastard. 

Stop prompts a singalong. Perry’s voice is a bit thin – maybe he’s looking after it for the rest of the tour – but everyone’s willing to help him out. Three Days – with a bassline as identifiable and legendary as any by Peter Hook or JJ Burnel – is epic. Perkins does an insane roll at the end of Been Caught Stealing. 

For a minute there, we all looked and felt a little bit younger. We were the generation to whom ‘nothing’s shocking’ made sense. War on the TV, unemployment, conservatism, AIDS, drug epidemics, police brutality, porn – we thought we’d seen it all. We were numbed. Nothing was shocking. 

We had no idea what was coming.

Jane's Addiction headline Bearded Theory Festival this weekend, then Monday the 27th May (Roundhouse) and Wednesday the 29th May (Roundhouse). They also play Glasgow Barrowlands on the 31st May and Manchester O2 Apollo on the 2nd June.

Scott Rowley
Content Director, Music

Scott is the Content Director of Music at Future plc, responsible for the editorial strategy of online and print brands like Louder, Classic Rock, Metal Hammer, Prog, Guitarist, Guitar World, Guitar Player, Total Guitar etc. He was Editor in Chief of Classic Rock magazine for 10 years and Editor of Total Guitar for 4 years and has contributed to The Big Issue, Esquire and more. Scott wrote chapters for two of legendary sleeve designer Storm Thorgerson's books (For The Love Of Vinyl, 2009, and Gathering Storm, 2015). He regularly appears on Classic Rock’s podcast, The 20 Million Club, and was the writer/researcher on 2017’s Mick Ronson documentary Beside Bowie