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2:00 PM PST – Dance music booms outside the Belasco Theatre on Hill Street in downtown Los Angeles as crews load in prior to an evening headlined by alt rock pioneer Perry Farrell’s latest project Kind Heaven Orchestra, the first installment of an eclectic new live performance series dubbed “Heaven After Dark.” Even early on a Thursday amidst pandemic, the area is aflutter with activity. Crews are on scene as filming of a movie takes place next door at the adjacent Mayan Theatre and a handful of fans are already huddled nearby, ready to grab the best spots when Farrell and his 11 piece ensemble take the stage in front of a sold out crowd eight hours later.
While he was born in Queens, New York, Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell has always been more closely associated with the city of Los Angeles.
It’s in L.A. where he founded Jane’s in 1985, years ahead of alternative music’s commercial curve. Fusing everything from funk and metal to punk and psychedelia, Jane’s quickly became the architect laying the foundation for the alternative uprising in the works, one which would spill over to the mainstream thanks to a little help from the city of Seattle circa 1991.
Widely credited as a flash point moment for alternative music, Nirvana released the Nevermind album on September 24, 1991. Within days, Jane’s Addiction would play its final concert, breaking up following the inaugural installment of Lollapalooza with a pair of genre defining platinum albums to their credit.
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3:48 PM PST – Management, publicists and roadies get a lay of the land as The Belasco is set up for “Heaven After Dark.” While The Belasco itself holds 1,500 people, “Heaven After Dark” is intimate by design, taking place for the first time not in the main theatre but in The 1926 Room, a meticulously decorated, period appropriate ballroom flanking the full-sized Spanish/Moorish-themed theatre’s balcony. Removed by staff to make room for a sold out crowd of just a few hundred, couches and other furniture are actually moved back into the room to contribute to the evening’s casual vibe. Kind Heaven Orchestra band members begin to arrive, readying for soundcheck.
While Lollapalooza was initially designed as a summer-long going away party for Jane’s Addiction, the band’s L.A. roots were a bit more unassuming. On an L.A. Strip dominated by the hair metal stylings of the day, it took Jane’s time to find an audience, building one slowly via word of mouth prior to the internet thanks to do-it-yourself gatherings at obscure venues, embracing Farrell’s roots.
“My humble beginnings were… I was kind of fortunate. It didn’t look like it at the time,” he said looking back. “I was coming from the punk rock kids. And we weren’t really welcome on Sunset Boulevard – nor did we have the money to put on shows. So it was basically do-it-yourself shows. And we would put on shows down here a lot and in lofts – artists would let us put on shows. At the L.A. River we put on shows. And then we went past that out into the desert. So I’m very at home here. And I know what can happen,” said Farrell, taking stock of the possibilities Los Angeles can hold.
“You know, I like to tell the story of my first show that I ever did,” he said. “I was in a band. And this guy Sonny had a hot dog stand. And we just said to him, ‘Hey, we’ll perform in front of your hot dog stand and maybe people will buy hot dogs, right?’ I was 23. I started late,” he explained, likely referencing a 1982 gig by his pre-Jane’s group Psi Com.
4:22 PM PST – “Wow! Look how beautiful this is!” muses Farrell, surveying the transition of The 1926 Room upon arrival. Risers are set up around the intimate room’s perimeter and soon dancers will enter, contributing to a vibe that’s part rock concert, vaudeville and cabaret but just shy of burlesque.
In 1991, Lollapalooza marked a sustainable return of the music festival to America following a nearly 25 year drought. While the concept flourished throughout Europe, it languished in the U.S. following the unpredictability that came to define Woodstock in August of 1969 and the tragedy which emerged from the Altamont Free Concert just four months later.
Co-created by Farrell, Lollapalooza featured a diverse array of young acts and quickly became a massive success, taking place in front of tens of thousands in each city.
“When people ask me did I know [Lollapalooza] was going to be this? Absolutely not. I was in it for kicks,” said Farrell. “If I knew it was going to be like this, I would’ve never made it the last hurrah for Jane’s Addiction, right? It’s plain and clear: I had no idea that it was going to be this.”
Spoofed by institutions like The Simpsons, Lollapalooza’s impact went beyond merely music, affecting broader pop culture. Spawning genre specific imitators like Ozzfest and Lilith Fair, Lollapalooza roamed America annually between 1991 and 1997, and again in 2003, before landing in Chicago two years later as the destination festival fans have come to know since.
As he continues tweaking the concept for his latest endeavor “Heaven After Dark,” Farrell is able to apply what he learned launching Lollapalooza as he looks to push the festival model forward by scaling down, focused on offering fans the uniquely immersive experience that’s harder to come by in a field surrounded by nearly 100,000 people.
“It had to be done. The ambition was to curate and nurture talent so that one day that talent could actually be on the stages of Lollapalooza,” said Farrell. “The music industry isn’t exactly nurturing artists, right? To say the least. It used to be, you got signed to a four to seven record deal. That gave you at least three records to develop yourself into a bona fide, headlining artist. These days, they give you a one record deal. And you’re lucky if you get a $20,000 record deal. Which is fine,” he said. “But with American Idol and The Voice and all of those shows, people forget this very important step as an entertainer and a musician: you have to be in a room with people – a small room – and learn your craft before you’re going to be on television or in a stadium. So I never mind coming back to this.”
5:00 PM PST – “We’re making this grand entrance – almost like a bullfighting procession,” says Farrell just before soundcheck, working with each band member to stage an elaborate entry alongside the crowd and onto the stage. “That was a good one, eh?” says Etty Lau Farrell as the group kicks off soundcheck with their take on “He’s a Rebel,” a 1962 hit for The Crystals and her latest single. As a professional dancer, Etty has worked with Jane’s Addiction since their 1997 reunion, first joining her husband on vocals in 2004 as backing vocalist in the group Satellite Party, and will be releasing a new EP this summer. “It’s good. It sounds great,” replied Perry.
Last month in Los Angeles, Kind Heaven Orchestra performed during the first “Heaven After Dark” event. It was a debut years in the making with both Perry Farrell and Etty Lau Farrell paying astute attention to even the most minute detail.
A concept in play before the pandemic, the idea is to grow the new event, moving to bigger rooms and additional cities as pandemic allows.
“This is our make-up show from March 2020,” said Etty of The Belasco event.
“But it’s important,” Perry replied.
“Right. But it’s like a COVID make-up show. We can’t really invest and build not knowing what the climate will be when the show finally comes, right? So we’re starting smaller and we always have the ability to expand,” she said.
“You’ve probably heard that we started to build – or started to conceptualize – putting this in Las Vegas. And we had, at that point, like 100,000 square feet. That means we would’ve had to fill like 5,000 to 8,000 people every day. And that was just insane. When COVID hit, it all went into a stall. And if we hadn’t gotten our money back, we would’ve been hemorrhaging…” he said trailing off, illuminating the pair’s personal investment in the project.
“Half a million a month. For the past two years,” replied Etty matter-of-factly.
“So it kind of is like a smack in the face of reality,” Perry said. “Like, ‘No. You should probably start it on a smaller scale.’”
“We were a little ambitious,” said Etty.
5:35 PM PST – “This is my first show with the band,” said Kind Heaven Orchestra backing singer and producer Janice Brooks. “I didn’t know that this was as much of a production as it is going to be. And I find that very intriguing. It’s much more exciting and interesting than just a regular show. I hadn’t performed in a while. And to be back doing this on this scale with this level of artist is more than I could really dream of. So I’m very excited about it.”
Ambition is never lacking when Perry Farrell approaches a new endeavor. Whether it’s musically or in terms of evolving the idea of the festival, it’s that ambition that allowed Lollapalooza to revolutionize the live event space in the 90s, becoming arguably the strongest brand in the festival sphere, one leveraged now through Lolla stagings in Chicago, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Berlin, Paris and Stockholm.
With soundcheck complete and showtime nearing, the Farrells retreat to a downtown hotel, readying for the gig. A kettle arrives for Perry just after 8 PM PST as Etty is being sewn into her dress. Donning designer pajamas, it’s here where Farrell drills down deeper into the concepts behind “Heaven After Dark.”
“It harkens back to the early 1900s – small theater. But also, in a fast forward to the 70s, the Playboy After Dark series. So that’s why I’m in pajamas. It’s a little bit of that,” he said. “In fact, one of the people in the show, the violinist, she’s from Chicago. When she was a little girl, her parents would go there. She has pictures of her as a little girl with Hugh Hefner and some bunnies and stuff. Anyway, that’s where I started my search for a wardrobe. I wanted pajamas. So now I found these great silk pajamas with mushrooms on them,” said Farrell. “Going back to the 1920s, I have a cummerbund. So I kind of look a little like Houdini. There’s locks going. And then I thought, ‘I also look a little bit like the boxers.’ So that’s why I chose these shoes. I went through it.”
9:40 PM PST – “We’re all ready to get out, right?” says Farrell referencing a pandemic induced layoff of about two years. “The rest of the show happens upstairs,” he says to about 30 VIP’s gathered for a brief acoustic performance in a downstairs speakeasy at The Belasco. Following a handful of appearances by Jane’s Addiction last year at festivals like “Beach Life” in Redondo Beach, CA and “Louder Than Life” in Louisville, KY, “Heaven After Dark” marks just the third performance for Kind Heaven Orchestra since 2020 following an opening slot for Young the Giant at House of Blues and a performance on the rooftop deck at Pendry Chicago during Lollapalooza last summer.
One of the most impressive musical moments during “Heaven After Dark” took place before the show itself even started as Kind Heaven Orchestra accompanied Farrell in stunning acoustic takes on “Mend,” the group’s 2021 single, and “Pets,” from longtime Jane’s side project Porno For Pyros.
“Pets” in particular stole the show with Farrell delivering his stunning vocal to a room of just 30 without a microphone, closing his eyes while singing from the heart and projecting to a room accompanying him in a whisper.
“I have to say, one of the most exciting things as a singer working with Perry is that he never sings a song the same,” said Kind Heaven backing singer Joie Shettler. “He’s just so creative. It makes it so exciting. It gives us permission. Because each time he performs, it’s different. It’s like he’s creating a painting almost but with vocals. He’s incredible. And I am so honored to be a part of Kind Heaven. Because it is an artistic, musical creation that I just absolutely love.”
Backstage, as showtime nears, a man on stilts is looking up while working on his hair in a mirror installed on the ceiling. Nearby, a keyboard is played and an acoustic guitar is strummed. Calm and collected, Farrell’s demeanor is contagious even on what could otherwise be a nerve wracking first night.
10:07 PM PST – “This is my first show with the Kind Heaven Orchestra,” said backing vocalist Jules Galli. “I had a show with Jane’s Addiction a few months ago and that’s how I came into the fold. We did the ‘Beach Life’ music festival. That was the only gig that I did with them. But it was life changing really. It’s really interesting to see how Perry works with other musicians and with different songs. It’s more eclectic in a really cool way. There’s funky 50s vibes, alternative rock obviously and it’s just really fun. As an artist and someone who strives to do this for a living, seeing someone like him do this for – how many decades has it been? It’s like school.”
“Heaven After Dark” unfolds throughout a story put forth via live music and by dancers, DJ’s, stand-up comedians, street artists and more. Live rock and roll is at its best when it’s unpredictable and Perry Farrell presides over proceedings in almost a P.T. Barnum-like guise, conducting a train that just barely stays on the tracks.
Go-go dancers flank the outer perimeters of the room, accompanying the show. Dancing is a major part of the Kind Heaven proceedings and contributes to the storytelling. It’s an often underestimated part of the live concert presentation.
“I do feel it adds so much. I also know that as a professional dancer, we’ve always been seen as moving backgrounds,” said Etty. “But I feel that it’s important – because it adds to the atmosphere and the feel and the attitude and the overall excitement of the room.”
“You make the show graceful and noble,” replied Perry. “How about the Super Bowl halftime show? Imagine for just a second there were no dancers? What would that have felt like or looked like? They are probably the most underrated, underpaid artists in the world.”
Violins sparkled at The Belasco as Kind Heaven Orchestra put a unique spin on otherwise familiar fare from Jane’s Addiction and Porno For Pyros in addition to covers and original material.
Opening with “He’s a Rebel,” the group added a mariachi flare to a new single which features the lead vocal of Etty Lau Farrell alongside contributions from late Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins, Bon Jovi keyboard player David Bryan and Cars guitarist Elliot Easton. Later, the spirit of mariachi came to inform the Jane’s classic “Stop” as well.
“Mariachi! Again, very L.A.,” said Perry. “You know, ‘He’s a Rebel’ was actually written by Gene Pitney. Kind of rockabilly, right? And then, of course, Phil Spector got it. But that’s New York City. So we wanted to make it our own…” “But with an L.A. twist,” said Etty with a wink.
“It’s been a blast!” declared Perry as the ninety minute set drew to a close. “The very first. Downtown! Pretty cool, right? What else we got to do but celebrate?” asked the singer rhetorically as the crowd on stage swelled to 15 thanks to the arrival of dancers as Kind Heaven Orchestra closed up with Satellite Party’s take on Rare Earth’s “I Just Want to Celebrate.”
11:37 PM PST – “Did you like it? We’ve developed and we keep getting better. It feels really good,” said Etty Lau Farrell following “Heaven After Dark’s” debut. “I was genuinely, really taken aback by how enthusiastic and excited the crowd was – especially being as how we have a lot of new material. But they really held up the entire set. So that was nice.”
It turned into a party backstage as the members of Kind Heaven Orchestra celebrated a fun return to the live setting and a successful inaugural staging of “Heaven After Dark.”
“It feels really beautiful. It felt… not perfect – but there were moments that were bliss,” said Perry. “Is bliss perfect? I don’t know. It kind of is though, right?”
With the first event under their belt, the Farrells look forward to improving upon a concept destined for larger rooms in additional cities, providing for concertgoers the unique experience that’s gotten harder to find in an increasingly saturated festival landscape.
“I feel it’s not so much going to be a tour – I think we’re going to do more of the standalone kind of destination festivals – but on a smaller scale. We want to do this maybe 10 or 12 times throughout the year in different locations. So it wouldn’t be necessarily a tour in the traditional sense – but we’re still spreading it out around the world,” said Etty. “Obviously with the big shows, you get lights, production, pyro maybe. But the little shows, you get to connect with people. You get to see people enjoying you – singing along, making eye contact. You want to touch them. Everyone’s been kind of tucked away with COVID. So it’s a nice opportunity for everyone to come and sing together,” said Etty.
“We still plan on building it out to that size and larger. But I think the pace we’re doing it at is the proper pace. Especially, as Etty pointed out, coming out of COVID, you don’t know what you’ve got really,” said Perry. “Eventually we’re gonna want it to go two or three days – at least two days. So around the clock, you know?” he said.
“You see how much detail and attention we put on all of these seemingly small things. We’ve been waiting for this moment for years really. We don’t mind rolling up our sleeves and getting nitty and gritty,” said the singer. “I look at it like a petri dish. That’s where the germinating happens in these situations. It has to be grown organically. It’s exciting and it’s fun,” he explained.
“I always say, I’ll never give up the underground. Because that’s where it’s exciting. People always try to equate size with money. But today, when we can take images and send them around the world, you can play a small theater and the whole world can see it. I’m finding ways to work around it. I don’t have a label. We put the show on ourselves. And that’s how I started. I was just as happy [at the hot dog stand] as I was right here. It’s another day of my life that I’ll never forget.”