Marking their second year, a veritable army of rock stars descend on the legendary Fonda Theatre in Hollywood for the Above Ground benefit concert. In what may well be the best live events of the year, Jane’s Addiction and former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Dave Navarro and storied sideman Billy Morrison gather their friends for a night of heartfelt jamming.

Organized by the pair of to raise awareness and funds for the treatment of mental health, proceeds from the night are donated to MusiCares, a charity of the Recording Academy established to safeguard the health and well-being of all music people.

As Navarro and Morrison explain while bantering with the crowd, they have lost many of their friends to suicide or addiction-related deaths. Navarro in particular shared his own battles with depression that led him to the brink of suicide. For fans of the mercurial guitarist his return from the brink is a cause for celebration. In that spirit, the duo led a rotating line up in a genuinely celebratory night. The evening was divided into two sets, the first dedicated to covering the Stooges’ self-titled debut album which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Morrison’s bandmates Billy Idol and Steve Stevens joined the line up for a hard rocking version of the first song from The Stooges album ‘1969’, that almost justifies the price of admission alone. Singer/actress Juliette Lewis up next performs a double hit of the Stooges’ most famous tracks, ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ and ‘No Fun’. Lewis often lends her vocal skills to benefit concerts in Los Angeles and did a commendable job channeling Iggy Pop’s energy, adopting his erratic dance style, flailing about the stage bouncing off the band members like a ping pong ball.

Event organizer Navarro then brings the tempo down with a speech reminding everyone what the purpose of the event was all about. Lying prostrate on a smoke covered stage, Navarro invited audience members to participate in a chant he learned from a 17-year-old boy who he “talked off the ledge.” An eerie ceremony follows where scantily clad dancing girls have metal hooks inserted into their skin by mysterious figures in black robes. At last year’s Above Ground concert, female performance artists swung on giant slings suspended by hooks in their skin, with Navarro himself was suspended by hooks in his skin while playing guitar towards the end of the show. Whether this year’s hook inserting ceremony was just symbolic or whether there was some technical difficulty in suspending the participants wasn’t clear.

Reverting to high energy rock, the band welcome veteran guitarist Wayne Kramer of MC5 to sing and play guitar on the Stooges ‘Real Cool Time’. Billy Morrison handles lead vocal duties next on ‘Ann’, joined by Dave Kushner of Velvet Revolver on guitar. Kushner concludes the cuts playing a wailing solo before ending the song by dropping his guitar on the stage leaving it to feed back like an old Pete Townsend antic.

The former leader of Camp Freddie, Donovan Leitch Jr appears next to sing ‘Not Right’. The son of English folk-rocker Donovan, Leitch did the best job of the evening recreating Iggy Pop’s dance moves. Al Jourgensen, the lead singer of industrial outfit Ministry, provides a truly riveting performance of the last song from the Stooges album ‘Little Doll’. The charismatic singer appears high as a kite, hanging on to his microphone stand for dear life, but has no problem belting out the vocals in his trademark growl. Jourgensen sticks around to sing the final song of the opening set, Stooges classic ‘Search and Destroy’, which wasn’t on the first album. The most intense heavy rock jam of the night, the addition of The Cult’s guitarist Billy Duffy and Marilyn Manson bassist Twiggy Ramirez bringing a whole new hardcore sound to the stage.

An extended intermission follows featuring a guitar and rock-related art auction, curated by Dr. Drew and the event’s host, comedian and actor Tom Arnold.

The second set of the night features a rendition of David Bowie’s 1972 classic ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust’ with Morrison on vocal duties for the first tune, ‘Five Years’. ‘Soul Love’ follows next sung by Franky Perez the vocalist for Deadland Ritual, joined by Mat Schumer for a moving saxophone solo. Schumer remains on stage for the next track ‘Moonage Daydream’ as Billy Idol returns to handle vocals alongside Steve Stevens.

Gavin Rossdale of 90s grungers Bush is welcomed on to the stage to join the festivities, taking the mic for ‘Starman’. Mixi Demmer of Stitched Up Heart, looking a bit like Lady Gaga in a sparkly dress steps in to the spotlight for ‘It Ain’t Easy’.

Laura Mace turns in a soulful version of ‘Lady Stardust’ followed by Orianthi to sing ‘Star’, replete with maniacal lead guitar by Billy Duffy.

Jane's Addiction featuring Perry Farrell, Etty Lau Farrell and Chris Chaney along with Rage Against the Machine drummer Brad Wilk are introduced by Dave Navarro to perform ‘Hang on to Yourself’ and glam rock stomper ‘Ziggy Stardust’. The charismatic Farrell has a magical way of engaging the audience and is at top of his game on Bowie territory.

Few performers can upstage Farrell but the next performer to take lead vocals gives it his irreverent best as Jack Black appears to sing ‘Suffragette City’. Clad in a colourful tie-dye beach outfit, complete with a water bottle and a mini backpack, Black brings his usual humorous take on heavy metal to the party. Slamming down his water bottle and shaking his booty, he is joined onstage by towering drag queens, launching into an over the top Vogue “strike a pose” dance routine. Pure entertainment befitting an irreverent rock star, guitar wizard Steve Vai joins the fray bringing his jazz-rock skills into the intense jam.

The night ends with the final song off the album, ‘Rock n Roll Suicide’ as Franky Perez returns to take over lead vocals and Steve Vai unleashes an even more intense guitar solo. While the poignant song underlines the theme of the night, a multimedia show flashes on a giant screen behind the performers, showing images of the many artists lost to suicide or addiction. It was a bittersweet finale reminding us all of the frailty and importance of life. Well done boys and girls. Will there be an Above Ground 3?


Photos by L. Paul Mann
www.lpaulmann.com

















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