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Getting Back in the Habit

Richard Cromelin writes about pop music for Calendar

Jane’s Addiction’s new concert stage is a fanciful riot of tall banners, parasols and giant flowers, tribal masks and bent-pole gazebos. At the right is a garland-strewn deejay booth, at the left a curtained shower. Platforms that will be stationed throughout theaters where the band plays echo the tropical motif.

“Bali, Indonesia, deep South Pacific--that area, that’s where it comes from,” says Perry Farrell, looking at the structure that swallows much of the space inside the downtown Grand Olympic Auditorium, where the reunited group is rehearsing for its first shows in six years.

“I like to observe pageantry from around the world,” the singer explains. “I always start off thinking of a wedding. When somebody gets married, what does it look like? ‘Cause the union, the union is probably the most sacred day.”

Union is definitely the theme of this day, and weddings a recurring metaphor. It comes up again when guitarist Dave Navarro is asked why Jane’s Addiction disbanded in the first place.

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“That’s part of the old story,” he says. “I have a hard time talking about the old days. I’d rather focus on what’s happening now.

“If a couple had a terrible relationship where they were back and forth with each other, like on their wedding day, you wouldn’t say, ‘Well, why’d you break up before?’ Know what I mean? They’d be like, ‘Hey, it’s our wedding day.’ ”

For a band that made only three albums (one a live recording, and none of them huge sellers), never cracked the singles chart and packed it in before the ‘90s got rolling, Jane’s Addiction is stirring up quite a buzz with this reunion--especially in its hometown of Los Angeles, where its two Universal Amphitheatre concerts were quick sellouts.

But Jane’s Addiction’s impact was never measurable by the numbers. It was a group that bonded with fans in a profound way, not only intriguing them with powerful, exotic rock full of mystery and danger, but also bracing them with Farrell’s challenges to shed their inhibitions and resist conformity and complacency.

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Barreling up from the L.A. underground in the late ‘80s, Farrell, Navarro, drummer Stephen Perkins and bassist Eric Avery documented the desperation and exhilaration of life on the fringes.

In such songs as “Jane Says,” an achingly poignant portrait of a hooker friend (and the band’s namesake) from their first studio album, 1988’s “Nothing’s Shocking,” and “Been Caught Stealing,” a celebration of shoplifting from 1990’s “Ritual de lo Habitual,” the band staked its claim as a voice of the outsider, and it clearly struck a chord--both songs endure as classic staples of alt-rock stations such as KROQ.

Jane’s was still on the rise when it finally succumbed to internal dissension and broke up in 1991. Farrell and Perkins formed the group Porno for Pyros, whose two albums have received lukewarm critical and commercial reaction. Navarro, meantime, stepped into another L.A. institution, joining the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1994. His Peppers bandmate Flea is also the bassist in the revamped Jane’s Addiction--Avery, who has a new group called Polar Bear, declined the band’s offer to participate.

The reunion was seeded when Navarro and Flea played first on a song for Porno for Pyros’ 1996 album “Good God’s Urge,” and then on “Hard Charger,” a Porno for Pyros song that appeared earlier this year on the soundtrack for the Howard Stern movie “Private Parts.”

“After ‘Hard Charger’ we knew we could play music together in the studio,” says Perkins, 30, standing with Navarro and Flea in a corridor of the old boxing arena before rehearsal.

“After a six-year absence,” Farrell says later, “not having worked with Dave in particular, I was curious, because now we don’t know each other that well again. . . . I think that absence definitely makes the heart grow fonder, and I think that freshness is absolute passion. Between the two of those you can stay excited.”

No one seems surprised that the reunion is a hot ticket.

“Going into this we all had a pretty good idea that the excitement for Jane’s Addiction reuniting would be pretty big,” says Lisa Worden, music director for KROQ, which sponsored the reconstituted band’s debut with a Roxy show last weekend for radio contest winners.

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Why does the band maintain such a hold after all this time?

“They decided to break up when their career hadn’t even peaked yet,” says Worden. “They could have been the biggest band in the country and all of a sudden they broke up. . . . So I think it’s like nobody got their real fill of them. . . . “

The band has made sure there won’t be any post-honeymoon letdown, imposing built-in limits on the reunion: Just a 19-date U.S. tour, starting Thursday in New York. It was preceded by a publich “dress rehearsal” last week at the Olympic, and includes shows Nov. 28 and Dec. 1 at the Universal Amphitheatre and Dec. 2 at the San Diego Sports Arena. Rather than make a new album, they’ve recorded just two new songs, which will appear on “Kettle Whistle,” a collection of demos, live performances and studio outtakes due from Warner Bros. Records on Nov. 4.

Why make it temporary?

Says Navarro, 30, “Earlier I made an analogy to a wedding, where I said I wouldn’t want to talk about breaking up on my wedding day. At the same time, maybe we’re getting married but we’re not moving in together.”

“It makes it easier,” adds Flea, 35. “Because if anything kind of scares you about it, you won’t think, ‘I’m stuck with this forever, we got a world tour for eight months’ or something absurd like that.”

The musicians cite their obligations to their other bands, but the operative idea here is fluidity.

“Who knows?” says Flea. “I don’t think any of these guys have planners where we’ve planned out our next five years.”

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“There’s no dissension and cunningness here,” Farrell says later. “Everything’s really nice and out in the open. . . . It could evolve into a tremendous situation, if a band is something that we’re all up for.”

And don’t talk to this band about the impossibility of recapturing old magic.

“Being a fan of the band from an outsider’s perspective,” says Flea, a longtime stalwart on the Los Angeles rock scene, “the music is still completely invigorating and fresh and new-sounding.

“It’s a band that fills an emotional void in rock music that is not being filled by any other band. There’s so many dualities in the music, of masculine to the feminine, to the dark to the partying to the romantic to the sleazy. All these feelings that are in the city and people’s hearts that most bands don’t approach. . . . Something about Jane’s, man, it’s just heavy.”

The six years have worked some changes to the Jane’s Addiction dynamic. Notably, Navarro--the band’s rock dude with his tattoos and pierces and leather pants--has transformed himself from an aloof and withdrawn enigma into an open, forceful presence. Perkins is the same friendly, down-to-earth type, and Flea brings his distinctive energy and clear vision to the mix.

And what about Farrell? The group’s leader, 38, is one of rock’s most colorful and erratic figures, a dionysian jester who has been both arrested on drug charges and credited with concocting the decade’s most successful annual touring enterprise, Lollapalooza.

Wearing a silver print shirt and swirl-patterned pants as he sits in an upstairs dressing room that vibrates with the playing of his bandmates in the auditorium below, he looks like an elongated Punch-and-Judy puppet. With a jutting chin that gives his face a crescent shape, he suggests a nursery-rhyme man in the moon.

At the band’s informal but intense reentry at the Roxy, Farrell downplayed his confrontational tendencies and floated in the din like a benign, almost messianic figure. As the band found its groove on a series of classics, the singer warmly clasped hands with fans, but there were also flashes of the in-your-face stance that once made him both sparring partner and voice of reassurance to an uncertain generation.

“We’re their peers. . . . We’re talented, but we’re a little rough around the edges,” he says when asked about that bond. “Every once in a while I’ll hit a clinker, or I’ll have some cool outfit on and my shoes will be all [messed] up, or something doesn’t fit. . . .

“We show up and people feel like they know me. . . . And when they know me, they find out that they know themselves. I’m not so afraid to say things. I know that they feel the same way, because I know we’re all built exactly the same. . . .

“I reflect something that’s in them. Maybe they couldn’t put it poetically, but they sure did feel it. I know it. I know heaven and hell intimately. I know how it feels to be everything. I swear to you. Everything. There’s nothing I have not felt. All the good and the bad. That’s why I say ‘nothing’s shocking.’ ”

And that’s what Jane’s Addiction fans are responding to?

“Probably. So they know they’re not alone. . . . I enjoy Porno for Pyros a lot, but I know what they’re feeling when they want Jane’s. When I get into it and I’m in the center of this thing, I know what they’re after. I know why they like it, I get it. I feel it.”

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* Jane’s Addiction plays Nov. 28 and Dec. 1 at the Universal Amphitheatre, 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, 8:15 p.m. Sold out. (818) 622-4440. Also Dec. 2 at the San Diego Sports Arena, 3500 Sports Arena Blvd., San Diego, 8 p.m. $26.50. (619) 224-4176.


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