I suppose it’s a function of my age that I’ve now gone to two 90s-centric music festivals in the span of a month. But this one, held in Kitchener, Ontario, was different from Burlington’s Sound of Music Festival: it was louder, it was grungier, it was sexier, and at the same time it was bizarrely, paradoxically suburban.
Five bands hit the stage in the time we were there: The Glorious Sons, Extreme, Monster Truck, Jane’s Addiction and Soundgarden. But we only really paid attention to Extreme, Jane’s and Soundgarden.
If you read my blog post about “More Than Words,” (or if you know me) you know that I was and am a huge Extreme fan. People – most notably my wife – tease me for it. But I don’t care. They just don’t know. They think they know. But they know two acoustic songs. And they proved to everyone Saturday afternoon that they’re so much more than two acoustic songs. For me, they made up for lost time. I hadn’t seen them since the mid-90s, in a great show at Massey Hall promoting their third album. They opened up with a blisteringly faithful rendition of “Decadence Dance,” as Nuno Bettencourt flashed the fingers that have made him a guitar god to guitar geeks like me and my cousin Mike. Throughout the set, Mike and I were smiling and singing and playing air guitar to every song, while his wife, Claudia (who, outside of Extreme, has excellent musical tastes), looked on with eyes playfully rolled. But their showmanship and skill was relentless. At the end of the set, Claudia was at least partially won over. She admitted that she at least appreciates them now more than she did before the set. And that’s no small feat.
I skimmed over the fact that I smiled throughout the set. That is also no small feat, nor a feat that any of the other bands we saw yesterday were able to achieve, as great as they were. It speaks to something this band gives me that very few other bands do. Sure, in part it was just seeing them for the first time in 20 years, seeing that they haven’t lost a step – and that they look exactly the same (well, they have a new drummer since then and the bass player maybe put on a couple pounds, but Nuno and Gary Cherone have not aged). But it’s also what their music does to me. The energy it puts out into the world and into my… soul? Consciousness? Heart? We’ll go with “heart.” Because I couldn’t help but think, while the band played “Hole Hearted,” when they sang, “There’s a hole in my heart that can only be filled by you,” that for 20 years I had had an Extreme-sized hole in my heart. And it was finally filled in Kitchener. That may sound cheesy, but a lot of people seem to think Extreme is cheesy. So if they’re cheese, I don’t mind being it, too.
Sex and the suburbs. That’s either Sarah Jessica Parker’s next show, or the theme of Jane’s Addiction’s set Saturday evening. Let me set the stage. This festival was held at a place called McLennan Park. Not being too familiar with Kitchener, I didn’t know what to expect. But this park is smack in the middle of quaint, residential suburbia. In fact, it’s so smack in the middle that, if you were standing on stage, you could see a row of townhouses not too far in the distance – close enough that some (I emphasize some) of the residents hung out on their balconies to watch the show. To the left of the stage, you could see more homes. We parked on a residential street, where some homeowners were celebrating the festival with front-yard barbecues, and even selling food and drink. But, surely, we thought, there had to be people with babies, or older people, or just prudes, who weren’t thrilled with the idea of a loud rock festival happening in their backyards. Were they asked for consent, we wondered?
On to the show. Jane’s Addiction oozes attitude: a combination of confidence, sex and rock and roll. A shirtless, tattooed and toned Dave Navarro, at 48, looked 24 and absolutely shredded on guitar, as ladies half his age swooned. Singer Perry Farrell joked about partying on the bus in Niagara Falls on the way into town, with his teenage son and some hookers. “Not really!” he declared. “Don’t write that down!” Oops. Sorry, Perry. True or not, it was kind of funny. But I couldn’t help thinking about how hilariously inappropriate that would be found by some of those people in the townhouses behind us.
But that was only the beginning for any locals in their homes who might have been on the prudier side. Out came the dancing girls! The two lingerie-clad dancing girls doing some sort of choreographed dance with ribbons. Part of their act included sitting on a long wicker chair together, spreading their legs. There was a middle-aged man in a Soundgarden t-shirt next to me, holding a can of Coors in one hand and a joint in the other. Watching the lovely ladies, he patted me on the chest and said, “There’s room for one more.” On the chair, he meant. Sure, I’ll get right on that.
Oh, but locals, the debauchery was not done yet! Out came two more lingerie-clad ladies. More dancing girls, I thought. No, not exactly. Two roadies clasped a bungee or something onto each of the girls. I assumed they were going to be raised up. But where were the harnesses, I thought? They weren’t wearing enough clothes to hide a harness. The thing is, yes, they were raised up. By their own skin. Right around their shoulder blades, they must’ve had loops or hooks pierced into their skin, and they were raised up and happily swung over the stage for a full song. That was a new one for me. More power to you, ladies. And more power to Jane’s Addiction for still being so fucking rock and roll after 25 years.
Despite loving them throughout the 90s, somehow I only saw Soundgarden for the first time just a year ago, in a rainy double-bill opening for Nine Inch Nails. I felt back then that it was a solid show, but I didn’t get the full Soundgarden experience. Saturday night, I feel like I got a little more of it. I say “a little,” but I suspect their experience is just different. Where Extreme and Jane’s featured a lot of flamboyant showmanship, Soundgarden lets the music be the show. And their music simply is not the same as those other bands’. Soundgarden is often brooding, dark, heavy, and, well… grungy. They stand on stage and make their music. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Their music is enough.
And the pot smoke. The pot smoke was enough for them, too. At one point, singer Chris Cornell said that this crowd wins for creating the largest and most intense cloud of pot smoke he’s ever experienced in an indoor or outdoor show. It was like they didn’t even need a smoke machine. It was a “pot smoke smoke machine,” he coined, a product he planned to create and market now that pot is legal in so many places.
There was one thing that made last year’s show slightly underwhelming: immensely gifted original drummer Matt Cameron had been on tour with Pearl Jam, so their backup drummer was behind the kit. I didn’t know what to expect this time around. They showed the backup drummer on the festival’s website. But, at the start of the show, there was our floppy-banged genius of percussion, walking out on stage. I was so happy – and he was so good. You could hear it in a song like “The Day I Tried to Live,” with its shifting time signatures.
In the end, it was a sweltering, sweaty day in the suburbs. And it was so rock and roll. It had that slight discomfort, that rebelliousness, that came with it being held surrounded by quaint homes. The skin swingers gave that same vibe. There was sex – sex appeal, anyway, from Navarro to the dancing girls. There was that thick cloud of pot. And there was most definitely rock and roll. So it lived up to the cliché: sex, drugs and rock and roll.