Perry Farrell Envisions Vaudevillian Era of Performance Art with ‘Heaven After Dark’ Concert Series

Caught between the showman splendor of a Ziegfeld Follies show and Busby Berkeley-choreographed dancing girls of the silver screen with the poise of the politically slanted satire of Cabaret, is the pith of Perry Farrell’s vision for his Heaven After Dark shows, a concert series that kicked off inside the 1926 Room of the Belasco Theatre in downtown Los Angeles on Feb. 17, 2022, and will continue indefinitely. 

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“I think now more than ever we need to come together to reignite the power of curiosity, collaboration, and diversity through visual and auditory art,” says Farrell.

Heaven After Dark moves through seven realms of heaven, an audio-sensory journey introducing an assortment of musicians, dancers, street performers, and comedians narrating the story of the evening and with a performance by Kind Heaven Orchestra and pulling in some Jane’s Addiction songs—and adding on an upcoming performance with Porno For Pyros (at the Belasco, July 7)—featuring special guests before closing the evening with a rave-induced DJ set.

Played out in more intimate theater settings, the ceremonies, conceived from Farrell and wife Etty Lau’s Kind Heaven Orchestra, fuse a vaudevillian-inspired sphere of underground culture, visual stimulation, and other eccentricities in what Farrell describes as “an evening to be lived in the sublimity of the moment and the lasting memory of the mind.”

“I wanted to return to that time when there were the leggy dancers, amazing costumes, and a sub-plot of politics like Chaplin’s commentary in ‘The Great Dictator,’” adds Farrell.

Farrell began envisioning the artists, aesthetics and collective performances for the Heaven After Dark shows with wife Etty, a classically trained dancer, around the release of their self-titled debut in 2019 and follow up The Glitz, The Glamour, in 2021, which featured a collection of guest musicians, including Farrell’s friend and collaborator, late Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins—along with David Bowie keyboardist Mike Garson, Dhani Harrison, Soundgarden’s Matt Chamberlain, Elliot Easton of The Cars and DJ David Guetta, as well as his Jane’s Addiction bassist Chris Chaney and Porno For Pyros guitarist Peter DiStefano.

Farrell talked about creating a less-politicized aura around the art and performance of Heaven After Dark, and the joy of getting back to sweaty and touchy clubs again

American Songwriter: You call Heaven After Dark “immersive theater.” What do you hope to capture with this series of performances?

PF: I went back to the early 1900s when small theaters were evolving in New York, Paris, Germany, and Austria. It was a small mix of music and art when people like Picasso and Cocteau were doing small avant-garde theater and they always had elements of or a variety of entertainment—cabaret, burlesque—that was basically the mix in those days. And the music they were listening to was classical music with avant-garde composers like Stravinsky, and people were combining opera with classical. They were starting to get kind of saucy. It had humor, a satire, but there were also some political slants. Even in the movie Cabaret, they were mocking the Nazis back then. It’s about having smaller places where people can get together and really talk about what’s going on in their community, in culture, and in society.

AS: Obviously there are elements of politics that slip into art and or within a show, but it sounds like Heaven After Dark will lean more on the satirical side of things.

PF: Everything is politicized these days. There was a time when I was alive, when I was younger, when you could speak about politics, but you can also go outside and forget about politics and go purely into an art aesthetic. It can be something as silly as Dadaist poets and artists just for art’s sake, just to get outside of what’s going on in your everyday life and imagine and enter places that are surreal, and get away from the harsh realities. Sometimes life can be very hard, so I wanted to get back to that place when I was a young, budding artist. Sometimes we got to just dress wild and talk about things that were wild, like drugs and prostitution and rock and roll, and just enjoy our life. I want to reignite that kind of an evening. I want to draw out the artist. 

AS: Do you see Heaven After Dark expanding or going global?

PF: It’s funny to think of it as an expansion because I’m actually going smaller, like uranium. It’s smaller but combustible. I have Lollapalooza and I could go bigger, but in this case, it’s important that we go smaller. I always like to think about how I can contribute to the scene and make it even better by adding an element that it isn’t something that’s expected or it’s been done to death. I like the idea of adding a little bit of symphonic orchestral instrumentation to the sound of the night and mixing that in with electronics. 

February was just the beginning. Los Angeles is the first place that we did it, but it will not be the last. The ambition is to do this in different cities, in different countries, and find their up-and-coming groups and throw parties. Instead of it being one night, I would love to see it go around the clock for three days. That would be awesome. We’re just getting started.

Perry Farell (Photo: Walid Azami)

AS: What are some of the bigger challenges facing young artists today?

PF: It’s become harder and harder to get new groups off the streets. A lot of times they don’t make it out of the street. They only get one record deal, and if that song isn’t a hit right away, they move on. The record industry right now with the publishing from these online distribution companies, they’re not making enough money for themselves to grow. How do you get a group these days to the point where they can become a bonafide headliner? I can’t really put my finger on it other than to say, it really boils down to economics, and it takes a lot of money to tour a group. You really cut down on your entourage if you’re not in a band. I think the other part of it is that the record companies, they’re just not paying the same money that they did for things like videos or recording these days. If you’re lucky, they might give 10 grand, maybe 20, for a newly signed artist, but most record companies today prefer to have a project that they can control. In other words: one person that they can control that’s not too wild. 

I think the death of Kurt Cobain was the death of bands in a sense because record companies didn’t want to have problems on their hands, always worrying if the guys were either going to OD or not show up. It was too much craziness, so they went for tween groups and music they can control, and it’s produced really shitty music in the last five to 10 years.

AS: So what’s the secret sauce for a band or artists trying to get off the streets?

PF: You need time. The time spent in a crappy little club when it’s sweaty and stinky is valuable because that’s where the people are and that’s where the magic is developed. If the music industry was managed and essentially set up the way that pro sports are set up, music would be so healthy. From the time you’re a little kid until you’re a pro, athletes are supported by their families. They go through high school sports through college sports. They have trainers training them and they have big dreams that take a while to unfold, but people are patient. They know that it’s all worth it. It’s not so in the arts. Artists are generally looked at a lot of times like whores or prostitutes.

Every generation has a new incredible artist or musician that’s just waiting. And we’re just waiting to discover them and hear their music. We just have to provide an environment or a platform for them, so that’s where we’re going with Heaven After Dark.

AS: Is Heaven After Dark your own personal outlet as well, to move away from the bigger stadium setting and get you back to those small, sweatier shows?

PF: We musicians, we’re a strange group. Don’t get me wrong, it’s super fun playing to 70,000 or 200,000 people. That’s something I hope every musician gets to experience, but I’m going to tell you, I love performing when I can touch people. Imagine if you can be right on the court when LeBron James is slamming the basketball. You can actually give him a high five. You get to see him at arm’s length. The experience that they’re getting right now, they actually stand right there and hear my breath and feel my body. Those kinds of experiences… you can’t put a price tag on that.

AS: What inspires you these days?

PF: I like to move around as far as subjects. Of course, love is always a great subject, and we should always be thinking about writing about and being in love. But artists also have a responsibility to reflect back to the world the direction it’s going in. It can be a great direction, or it can be a really crappy direction like what’s going on in Ukraine right now. We have to make art about that but not too much. I started to get nauseous when every day on the news we were hearing something terrible that’s going on around the country. Somebody hates somebody else. It’s too much. I think we need to take a break from all that hatred. It’s not healthy for the world to be so afraid, so fearful of each other—so fearful of foreigners or people that are not in our tribe. Somebody needs to talk some sense into this country, into the world, and that’s where art can come in and make you forget your problems as well. But you’ve got to have the room for it. We can’t constantly be bombarded with negativity. 

Perry and Etty (Photo: Walid Azami)

AS: It sounds like this is really informing the kinds of songs you’re gravitating towards these days.

PF: I’m making a very obvious decision to write about things that are fun like I used to write. When I was younger, I didn’t feel that I had the responsibility to put people back in better moods, but these days, I feel like I do. As a matter of fact, I feel that artists, musicians, and all people in the art should right now be very active in expressing themselves, because, we’ve tried for 10,000 years to all get along with each other. When the Jewish people went into Jericho that was 10,000 years ago and fought with Palestinians. And you would think after 10,000 years, we could figure things out, but we obviously can’t. I say it’s because we’re relying too much on our politicians. We’re relying too much on our leaders. We’re relying too much on our military to solve our problems that really needs to be solved by artists and people that can preach and teach about love.

AS: How does some of the earlier stuff you wrote with Jane’s Addiction, Porno For Pyros or elsewhere resonate with you now?

PF: Some of it resonates really well. Some of it, I can attribute it to… look, I was younger, and you’re entitled to be wrong or see the world wrong. But I’ve got kids now, and we have discussions with our boys, and I don’t blame them if they want to be agnostic or atheist. It’s not easy to say for sure that God exists. As a young person, it’s practically your job to be curious and question everything, and I think it’s very healthy. But then after a certain time, you have to get your shit together. You have to be able to have a good grip on reality, especially if you’re going to be a parent. Now it’s up to you to be the voice of reason. 

The early Jane’s stuff, I totally agree with, but there’s a couple of songs that I don’t connect with anymore like “Had a Dad” [Nothing’s Shocking, 1988]. That song was about the death of God as well as my father, so now I kind of regret singing that one. But like I said, we’re entitled to grow and change our minds. At least I wasn’t lying to people at the time.

AS: Moving between Jane’s, Porno, solo material, and beyond, do you find yourself writing differently with Kind Heaven Orchestra?

PF: I don’t wait for the music industry to gratify myself, or to gratify others. We have a new song that we’ve been working on “He’s a Rebel”—written by Gene Pitney and also recorded by Phil Spector—and we wanted to give it a mariachi-style kind of flavor. We did the song and then we performed the song at this show, did a video for it and then we dropped the song the day after the show. I’m not waiting a year in between albums, because that was the old way. The music industry still works off the idea that you need six months to set up the song, you need whatever time to record the record and then you go out and do the tour—not so in my case. We’re constantly writing and then when the song is done we do a remix of it or an acoustic version of that song that can be used in the upstairs for the DJ. We’re constantly in this beautiful flow. There’s no coitus interruptus with us. You get to write the song, record the song, then you go out and perform the song and it’s like that year-round, and it’s a beautiful feeling. You don’t feel encumbered by this record industry that’s like backed-up traffic. It’s like being on [Interstate] 405 all fucking all day. This is pure. It’s gratifying. There’s a rhythm that keeps you creative. You don’t go into a stall for parts of the year. You’re constantly just expressing yourself. It’s beautiful.

Photo: Meeno / Miller PR

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