By Michael Lello
WILKES-BARRE – Nineties nostalgia seems to be growing by the day among rock fans, and with good reason: the decade’s grunge and alternative explosions provided for some music that has held up quite nicely.
Case in point: Jane’s Addiction and Alice In Chains’ performances Friday night at Toyota Pavilion at Montage Mountain on the first night of the Uproar Festival hard rock/alternative package tour.
Let’s start with the best: Jane’s. The pre-grunge Los Angeles rock act unfurled a dark and sinewy set, frontman Perry Farrell leading the festivities like a ringmaster on an acid trip in an S&M club. The churning “Underground,” from the group’s 2011 reunion record “The Great Escape Artists” got things rolling before Chris Chaney’s rumbling bassline signaled the introduction of the brilliant “Mountain Song.” The brooding tune was followed by the upbeat “Just Because,” a shimmering slice of post-metal which found Farrell, 54, but ripped, strutting the stage shirtless in shiny silver pants, throwing in a few pelvic thrusts for good measure.
“Is this the first time Jane’s played Scranton, Pennsylvania?” Farrell asked partway through the song. “Then this is a special occasion.” Then, expertly and appropriately, he sang the “when we first met” line from the song.
The funky hit “Been Caught Stealing” was a crowd favorite, an extended show piece that featured some Farrell crowd interaction while the band vamped. Before “Ain’t No Right,” Farrell improvised a story about Scranton, “devil horns, hot chicks and reefer.” During “Ain’t,” the band’s two female dancers engaged in some swordplay and gyrated with Farrell and guitarist Dave Navarro as Stephen Perkins pounded out a tribal drum beat.
“Ocean Size,” from the band’s 1988 album, “Nothing’s Shocking,” was another flowing highlight, with Farrell striking a pose at the song’s conclusion. Farrell poured some of his wine bottle into the audience and sang, “I wish I had enough for everybody” while the dancing girls gyrated on a riser. Another “Nothing’s Shocking” song, “Three Days,” and “Stop!,” from 1990’s breakthrough album “Ritual de lo Habitual,” closed the main portion of the set. “We have to bid you adieu. We have shit to do,” Farrell said, before an encore of “Chip Away,” which featured Navarro, Perkins and Chaney playing drums at the front of the stage, with no other instrumental backing for Farrell. It was a rather feral conclusion to a primal set, one which was more about base instincts and audience connection than which songs were played; for the record, “Jane Says” was not.
Closer Alice In Chains did not disappoint either, playing a set of their influential metal that showed that Layne Staley’s legacy is one worth preserving, but also one worth building upon. To that end, AIC opened with a statement song, “Check My Brain,” from their first post-Staley album, “Black Gives Way To Blue.” Jerry Cantrell’s queasy guitar riff and frontman William DuVall’s no-nonsense delivery were both attention-getting, but in a totally different way than Jane’s Addiction’s glam rock methods. Strobe lights punctuated “Them Bones,” which featured nice harmony vocals and a melodic chorus that provided a brief respite from the sinister song. “Hollow,” from the recently released “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here,” and the band’s first hit, “The Man In The Box,” followed.
It’s worth noting that the newer material stacked up nicely with the classic cuts. The moody and dynamic “Your Decision,” for example, was just as pleasing as any of the songs that made the band grunge superstars.
That said, AIC wrapped up their set with four straight older, well-known singles: “Down in a Hole,” “No Excuses,” “Would?” and an encore of “Rooster.” DuVall did “Down in a Hole” justice, which is no easy feat; “No Excuses” featured a nifty thrice repeated take on the main guitar riff to end the song; DuVall punched the air in time with the concluding lyrics of “Would?”; and he led the crowd in a singalong during “Rooster.”
Jane’s Addiction and Alice In Chains have very little in common, besides a relatively long list of diverse, if not common, influences. For that reason, pairing them to lead Uproar was a wise move, musically if not financially, as the venue, especially the lawn, was spottily attended. But if you were there, that didn’t matter. Viva la ’90s.