It felt more like 1992 on Friday night when two reunited bands from the era played St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center in front of about 11,000 nostalgic fans.
Or, make that nearly reunited. Openers Jane’s Addiction were down guitarist Dave Navarro, who is currently dealing with the effects of long COVID. Bassist D’arcy Wretzky, meanwhile, never rejoined Smashing Pumpkins when Billy Corgan invited original guitarist James Iha to join him and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin to tour and record again in 2018. (Of Corgan, Wretzky has said: “I honestly think he may have a brain tumor. He’s always been insufferable.”)
And, well, Jane’s Addiction won the evening with an exceptional hourlong set marred only by lead singer Perry Farrell’s inane between-song patter, which at one point had him going on at length about the hair of some dude in the crowd.
Queens of the Stone Age’s Troy Van Leeuwen lacked Navarro’s over-the-top rock persona, but he did a great job replicating Navarro’s memorable solos and added his own flourishes here and there.
The real secret weapon, though, was bassist Eric Avery, who has declined to participate in most reunited Jane’s Addiction activities, beyond a brief spell in the late ’10s. His distinctive, bass-as-lead-guitar approach is what made Jane’s Addiction’s early work so compelling, particularly on 1988’s “Nothing’s Shocking,” songs from which made up about half of Friday’s set list.
The band opened with the slow-burning “Kettle Whistle,” a track from Jane’s Addiction’s first, short-lived reunion in 1997. And while it was clear there were some effects being utilized, Farrell’s voice was shockingly on point. The guy is 63, has not led the healthiest lifestyle and, you know, the vocals on a lot of Jane’s Addiction songs are really weird and tough to sing in the best of circumstances.
Farrell and Avery soared on a huge “Ocean Size,” an even huger “Mountain Song” and an extended “Ted, Just Admit It …” Yes, Farrell did kind of mess up “Jane Says” and, again, he should have focused more on singing than speaking. But once they get Navarro back in the fold, these guys will be unstoppable, which no one was expecting from Jane’s Addiction in 2022.
The good news about Smashing Pumpkins is that they really dialed back the Billy Corgan Is God-isms of the 2018 tour. It felt much more like an actual band this time around, rather than Billy Corgan and others. The bad news is that Corgan has been quite prolific over the past years, recording a whopping 61 new songs across three albums, the most recent of which (“Atum: A Rock Opera in Three Acts”) is coming out in three separate 11-track collections.
That meant a lot of material unfamiliar to those who just wanted to rock out to “Bullet with Butterfly Wings.” They opened with “Empires,” the first of two selections from “Atum: Act Two.” Despite the bright “Today” popping up early, much of the first half of the show felt murky and aimless, with no real momentum and some truly dull newbies (“Cyr,” “Solara”).
The show hit rock bottom, though, when Corgan revived his cover version of Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime,” which was previously a staple of live dates back in 2000. He slapped on an extended instrumental intro and recast the new wave smash as something approaching death metal. It didn’t work, Billy.