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People Pleaser

Perry Farrell wants to turn your frown upside down.

Perry Farrell is either the youngest 44-year-old in the pop-music game or (with apologies to Captain Beefheart) an old fart at play.

On occasion, Farrell is prone to nostalgia. How else to explain his decision last year to simultaneously revive Jane's Addiction -- the group he'd officially disbanded over a decade earlier -- and the Lollapalooza Festival, a traveling musical bacchanal whose relevance had seemingly come and gone? At other times, he seems positively obsessed with what's new, what's hot, what's hip. For the most part, though, these apparently contradictory impulses peacefully co-exist within him. He's an inveterate enthusiast who cares less about whether he's looking back or looking forward and more about injecting joy into each girl and boy in his immediate vicinity.

Consider his approach to deejaying, a sideline to which he's grown increasingly devoted. "A DJ provides something, and then he gets out of the way," Farrell says in mid-January, shortly before he's scheduled to spin at a Liz Phair show taking place amid Utah's Sundance Film Festival. "It's a little different from being the front guy of Jane's Addiction. For a DJ, the party is a lot more important, and what you're trying to do is provide background for a great party -- and to make people happy.

Peripheral vision: Perry Farrell.
Peripheral vision: Perry Farrell.

Details

With Sound Tribe Sector Nine and Ozomatli, 7 p.m. Saturday, January 31, Fillmore Auditorium, 1510 Clarkson Street, $19.50, 303-830-TIXS; with Alex Graham and DJ DRC, Saturday, January 31, Avalon, 9535 Park Meadows Drive, Lone Tree, $20, 303-790-0024

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"Party music is like putting a compilation together," he goes on, his words racing like lemmings in sight of a cliff. "That's a very easy way to proceed, a very easy premise to go on -- that you're putting together a special compilation for the evening. You look at the crowd, and you select what you think will make them feel good, and sometimes you can use familiarity to do that. But sometimes you also want to educate, to make them smile, to make them think, ''ve never heard that before!' Maybe they'll even ask, 'What's that number?'"

Questions like these let Farrell know he's touched his listeners -- and as anyone who's seen him cavorting with gyrating dancers at a Jane's concert can attest, he likes to be touched in return. That's why he chooses his deejaying gigs carefully. "As a DJ, you take on the party," he allows. "Some people say, 'I'll take on any party, as long as they pay me,' and God bless them, because maybe they really need the money. But I don't need the money. I look for a good party, a party where I can have a good time. I'm up here at Sundance, and do you know why I came? Because it's a great party! I can come up here and enjoy myself and have people enjoy themselves because I'm playing music I think is suited for them."

This philosophy has fueled Farrell since, as a fifth-grader, he discovered that he could rouse the neighborhood girls by inviting them to his house and spinning James Brown sides. A New Yorker by birth, he eventually wound up in Los Angeles, where, in 1983, he joined a band called Psi Com that earned some local notoriety before fracturing over the usual interpersonal turmoil. Shortly thereafter, Farrell met bassist Eric Avery. They were soon joined in the original lineup of Jane's Addiction by drummer Stephen Perkins and guitarist Dave Navarro, the current squeeze of Carmen Electra, with whom he stars in a new MTV "reality" series, 'Til Death Do Us Part: Carmen and Dave. Farrell and Perkins, the best man at the Navarro-Electra wedding last year, figured prominently in the first episode.

The Addiction quartet's combination of metallic rock, visual splendor and flat-out hedonism quickly attracted the attention of Triple X, an indie imprint that introduced Jane's via a live platter in 1987. By then, however, majors were already stalking the combo, with Warner Bros. eventually winning the right to release the 1988 benchmark Nothing's Shocking.

Today, Shocking is best known for introducing "Jane Says," Farrell's hard-eyed tale of a future-free junkie, but this first-rate, chronically overplayed modern-rock staple was supplemented by a collection of great ditties ("Ocean Size," "Had a Dad," "Mountain Song" and more) distinguished by glamour, ambition and a widescreen sound that was at once classic and innovative. Ritual de lo Habitual, which followed two years later, was just as strong, with the shoplifting anthem "Been Caught Stealing," the propulsive "Stop!" and "Three Days," a ten-minutes-plus epic, leading the pack. The material furnished just the right climax for Lollapalooza, which Farrell founded in 1991. The inaugural lineup, which ranged from Nine Inch Nails to Ice-T's Body Count, was diverse and exciting, and the carnival atmosphere that extended to a second stage and a concession-packed midway celebrated the youth movement of the day without seeming to exploit it unduly (that would come later). The result was a cultural milestone that inspired countless imitations, most of which were tepid variations on the original.

The success of Lollapalooza may have helped tear Jane's apart, but substance abuse run amok is a more likely culprit. The band's members pushed pharmacology to its limits throughout their time together, as was made clear in an interview Navarro gave to Westword in late 1990. When Navarro wasn't slurring his words, nodding off or riding a train of thought into one embankment after another, he engaged in exchanges that required a little decoding.

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