A large crowd of local music fans spent their Sunday night at the Santa Barbara Bowl and witnessed performances that were moving, rockin’ and … really weird by bands thenewno2, The Airborne Toxic Event and headliner Jane’s Addiction.
Thenewno2 started the event off at 6:30 p.m. The timing was the first issue — it seemed much too early in the evening for the band’s blend of ambient loops, loud vocals, heavy drums, guitar riffs and flashing pink, phallic lights. The somewhat experimental rock group is famously headed by George Harrison’s son, Dhani Harrison, and includes Jeremy Faccone, Nick Fyffe, Jonathan Sadoff, Frank Zummo and Ventura/Santa Barbara local Aaron Older. I think a grungy, dark, club-type venue would have suited thenewno2’s performance much better, as well as a younger audience; while they were interesting to listen to, I did not feel that they made a great effort to connect with the crowd and there were no clear melodies or spaces in the songs for people to come in and hold on to.
I was most excited about the second opener. The Airborne Toxic Event gained a big following in L.A. and beyond when their self-titled first album dropped in 2008. I had the pleasure of seeing them when they played Coachella Fest in 2009.
This was a very different show, however; though the band played many of the same songs I had heard back then, they were much more engaging with the audience and also more apt to push boundaries. For example, about midway through the set the mood became a bit more intense and somber when front man Mikel Jollett announced that they “got shit for playing this next song,” referring to controversy surrounding “Welcome to Your Wedding Day,” an openly critical message about drone attacks in Afghanistan. Jollett went on to say that there is nothing more American than questioning your leaders, and the band began playing with ferocity. They brought back this call to activism with their encore, which they sarcastically dedicated to the LAPD; partway through they broke out into the Clash cover, “I Fought the Law.”
The Airborne Toxic Event has a great energy on stage. They consistently connected with the audience, whether they were speaking to us directly or showing how happy they were to be there by dancing around with abandon. They seemed sincerely grateful to be playing for us, and to be opening for Jane’s Addiction, a band Jollett admitted he idolizes. That kind of sincerity is often lacking in music shows — and in a lot of art, in fact — so I found it refreshing and endearing.
The highlight of their set was (predictably) when the lights dimmed, violinist Anna Bulbrook centered herself on stage and the heart-wrenching opening of “Sometime Around Midnight” swelled up and echoed across the hill. In the song, Jollett poetically describes a painful encounter with an ex-girlfriend at a party.
The thing that still gets me about this song is the dual feeling it evokes of wanting to be this girl in “the white dress” who so distresses her former beau, and knowing in the end that you’re more likely Jollett’s character, disturbed by someone else’s memory that you can’t shake: “Your blood boiling / Your stomach in ropes … When your friends say, ‘What is it? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.’” Ouch.
Finally: violins just make everything better. The depth added to the band’s music by Bulbrook’s playing is invaluable. The catchy, emotional melodies made the show.
After Airborne Toxic Event ended, there was a pause in the musical action as the show was set up for Jane Addiction’s elaborate performance. I was wowed from beginning to end. The over-the-top stage setting included a huge statue of two curvaceous, naked ladies, reminiscent of beautiful Hindu goddesses, which the drum set was propped up in front of, and three huge rectangular box screens that played video later in the night and held up various live performers throughout the show.
The band entered to Pink Floyd’s epic “Welcome to the Machine.” When they began playing, someone in a black, feathery, creepy costume and a harness ascended a ladder towards the back of the stage and moved around eerily in the reddish light, seemingly flying. At the same time, two busty women in bras and super-long white skirts were lifted into the air on either side of the stage. Their skirts were large, jellyfish like structures that billowed out around them — until the chorus, during which the women kicked upwards along with the beat, breaking the shape of the skirt and creating a strangely beautiful scene.
The women only remained like that for the opening number, but each song included a fairly elaborate performance. During some, like “Been Caught Stealing,” the large screens lit up and played vintage-looking movie clips that usually corresponded with the song’s theme (this montage showed a kid stealing a car and getting arrested).
About halfway through the set, a mechanical woman pushing a stroller was rolled across the stage while the screen played a disturbing video titled “A Sadobaby” from the documentary Sadobabies: Runaways in San Francisco. At the same time, the stage was set with ornate chairs, which band members Dave Navarro and Chris Chaney played from in the next song.
Part of the fun of the performance was the band’s energy — front man Perry Farrell was especially lively, making jokes throughout the set, taking off his shirt and dancing around like a crazy man while drinking from a bottle of wine. The band has been around for over twenty years and these guys aren’t young men by any means, but you would not have known it by watching their performance Sunday night. Their rendition of “Three Days,” a nearly eleven-minute long ode to a threesome, was as animated as it was hypnotizing. Jane’s Addiction gave it their all, and everyone — even the awesomely nerdy middle-aged people in the crowd — stood up several times to dance their asses off during the show.
Though I did not come to their performance as a well-versed fan, I left feeling totally satisfied by what proved to be a captivating, energizing, rock and roll show. I would go see the spectacle that is Jane’s Addiction‘s live performance again and again and again. I really could not ask for anything more from the variety of talented performers that graced the Bowl’s stage that evening.