In their 24 years of existence, Jane's Addiction has broken up and reunited as many times as they've released studio albums.
After the band's latest breakup in 2004, Jane's Addiction has again reformed -- and this time in their complete lineup for the first time in 17 years: singer Perry Farrell, guitarist Dave Navarro, drummer Stephen Perkins and bassist Eric Avery (who had been the lone holdout in previous reunions).
Despite widespread consideration of Jane's Addiction as a band that both spurred and defined the "alternative rock" era of the early `90s, internal squabbles and multiple side projects have meant a discography of only three studio albums (their self-titled debut was a heavily dubbed live disc).
At South By Southwest, the annual music conference, the Los Angeles band played a (sort of) unannounced show late Thursday night sponsored by Playboy -- the band's biggest concert since reforming last year to accept the "Godlike Genius Award" from the music magazine NME.
Originally reconvened simply for the awards show, the band opted for a full reunion. They've been working in the studio and on May 8 will begin a tour co-headlined with Nine Inch Nails.
Playing Thursday in a space previously occupied by a Safeway, the band put on a tight, thundering show to a raucous crowd that cheered their tawdry art rock hybrid. The flamboyant Farrell was in constant motion, gyrating across the stage while Navarro's heavy guitar pounded out their old material like their hit "Been Caught Stealing."
The show, with Playboy bunnies on hand and rock star theatrics on the stage, was decidedly decadent for today's lean times. "What a bunch of heathens," a smirking Farrell told the audience.
In an interview hours before their performance, such enthusiasm was less evident. The band members spoke variously about the reunion as a "negotiation" and how a "sea change" in the music industry had altered the reality for musicians, for better or worse.
Navarro, whose post-Jane's projects have included being a member of Red Hot Chili Peppers, hosting a reality TV show and a foray into pornography, spoke of a feeling of being home.
"In a lot of ways, Jane's Addiction is the biggest part of my life, hands down," said the guitarist. "As many times as we've done upstarts, at this stage of my life, it just feels like I've always been a member of Jane's Addiction and we take really, really long breaks."
Jane's Addiction first broke up in 1991 at the height of their popularity (and just after the first Lollapalooza, which Farrell co-founded). They toured in 1997 and again reunited between 2001-2004, both times without Avery. Royalties have been an issue.
Avery, who acknowledges his "laconic" nature, makes no effort to hide a certain tension.
"It's been interesting," the bassist said after a long pause. "It's been a negotiation. It's always a negotiation to get anything done in the world."
Perkins is perhaps the most aggressively enthusiastic member of the band. He's also worked hardest to preserve their material, for the past two years helping compile a three-CD set of rarities ("Cabinet of Curiosities") that will be released in April.
Farrell, the founder of the band, said he looked at the landscape in music and saw a vacancy.
"Everyone started to think about the current state of music, the groups that are out there that are living legends," said Farrell. "(We thought), `There's room for us here. Maybe it would be a good time to go out there and devastate them like we used to."
When the band last broke up in 2004, Farrell criticized his bandmates for giving "no consideration to the legacy (Jane's Addiction) has built up over the years. Jane was getting stripped of her majesty."
Now, Farrell says he's less concerned about the band's legacy and is eager for the group to have a freshness.
"Honestly, that period of life is decaying," said Farrell. "It exists but in part. It's not like it was. If you put too much weight on the past, you're going to be passed up."
One advocate of the legacy of Jane's Addiction has been Trent Reznor, the lead singer of Nine Inch Nails -- who toured as a young band on that first Lollapalooza in 1991.
In a blog post, Reznor recently credited Jane's Addiction for creating alternative rock, writing that their Lollapalooza shows "set the stage for Nirvana to shift popular taste a few months later, and were really ... fun to play and attend -- truly the best times I've had."
Reznor has been collaborating with Jane's Addiction in the studio. Navarro says that "there's been a little too much speculation" about the sessions. The band doesn't expect to release an album (they don't have a record deal) but will release songs, as Farrell says, "in the most modern way" -- online and for free.
As a live act, Farrell relishes the "pageantry" of Jane's Addiction, saying it was "glorious to be around live." He said because of the way the music industry has declined, spectacular concerts have dried up: "Our project has got the potential to be one of the groups that stand among the people like the Madonnas and the Roger Waters."
Regardless of any remaining tensions, Navarro said recent shows (they've played a handful of underground concerts in Los Angeles) have carried a "renewed spirit."
"I've been in a number of bands; I've tried it a million different ways," said Navarro. "The same issues come up with any band, any four or five people you put together. Why not have it be with my original band that's my favorite music anyway? The drama and the glories and the disappointments -- all of it is kind of par for the course."