Jane’s Addiction, Grizzly Bear Soar At SXSW ’09

Reunited Jane's play stellar comeback set.

AUSTIN, Texas — The beauty of South by Southwest lies in the scheduling. Take a stroll down Sixth Street between the hours of 6 p.m. and 2 a.m., and you’ll hear a cacophony of sludgy metal, blooping electro and booming hip-hop pouring out of the windows of each and every club. It’s a 500-band pile-up, all within a 10-block radius, all the time. And it’s pretty amazing.

Take, for example, Thursday night, when over the span of a few short hours, the SXSW schedule-makers threw together the whisper-quiet indie of Brooklyn’s [artist id="1834745"]Grizzly Bear[/artist] and the revelatory rock of Los Angeles legends [artist id="702"]Jane’s Addiction[/artist], and set them in venues that ran the gamut from a Presbyterian Church to a gutted supermarket in a strip mall by the interstate. It was, to say the least, rather inspired. (There were loads of other gigs as well — head over to our SXSW hub for more!)

But this was hardly haphazard planning. Grizzly Bear’s gig at the Central Presbyterian Church — a warm and cozy chapel with high-arching ceilings and knotty wood-paneled walls — was perfectly tailored to their brand of atmospheric, harmonized indie, as the intertwined vocals of frontmen Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen floated up to the eaves, curled like puffs of smoke, then disappeared.

Gauzy guitar lines and gently tapped Casio tones swirled about the space, making themselves at home. And the audience (many of whom had begun queuing up hours earlier to land a spot in the pews) sat in reverent silence — fitting, given the location — as the Bears worked through songs from their 2006 album, Yellow House, and their upcoming Veckatimest, the latter’s newfound focus on gentle reverb being particularly suited to the churchly location. It was all very ethereal, very pretty and a tad bit surreal … just like Grizzly Bear’s music.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, of course, is Jane’s Addiction, L.A.’s leading purveyors of perversity, and the godfathers of alternative rock. Recently reunited with long-estranged bassist Eric Avery , they began shaking off the rust (they hadn’t performed in their original incarnation in more than 17 years) at tiny L.A. clubs earlier this year, but their Thursday night headlining gig at Playboy’s “Rock the Rabbit” party was their first time working a big room. Or, more specifically, a big supermarket.

In a move that was either pure coincidence or pure brilliance, the Playboy bash was held in an empty grocery store attached to a slightly skeevy strip mall in a decidedly unsafe area of Austin. It’s difficult to think of a more perfect setting for Jane’s tawdry, tarty rock (the bevy of Bunnies parading around the party were a nice touch too). Whether it was due to the joy of feeling at home, or the joy of playing music together again, Jane’s came out feisty, fiery and fierce.

On this night, there were no selections from Jane’s softer side, just plenty of pummel, from opening number “Three Days” to the incredibly raucous set-closer “Stop!” Showing a swagger that only the best bands possess, Jane’s threw haymakers, with guitarist Dave Navarro pulling solo after solo out of his axe, frontman Perry Farrell patrolling and posing, and the reformed rhythm section of Avery and drummer Stephen Perkins remaining in lockstep.

Songs like “Standing in the Shower … Thinking” (during which Farrell patted his crotch dry with a towel, then tossed it into the crowd), “Ted, Just Admit It …” and a particularly massive “Ocean Size” sent the crowd into hysterics — there was even some crowd surfing, which sent the Bunnies scattering — and showcased a band still very much at the top of its game. Navarro and Farrell shared a smooch, Avery and Perkins exchanged knowing nods, and frankly, it was as if those 17 years never happened.

MTV News was Live & Mobile at the South by Southwest festival this week, with blogs, articles plus live and on-demand video of all the bands, gigs and BBQ!