By most forms of measurement, it was a cold night in the city of Angels. Metaphorically speaking, the fire inside an iconic theatre made December 20th a night to remember. We all know 2021 was a tough year, this event made us all forget about life for a minute. It was time for the third annual Above Ground benefit show at the Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles.
Organized by Dave Navarro of Jane’s Addiction and Billy Morrison of Billy Idol, it was a who’s who of a musical guest list throughout the night with special surprise performers who were not listed on the bill. The show benefits MusiCares which strives to help the “humans behind music because music gives so much to this world.”
Every year, Navarro and Morrison perform a couple of well-known albums by popular musicians in their entirety. This year, the highlighted albums were Lou Reed’s 1972 album, “Transformer,” and Sex Pistols’ ’77 release, “Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols.”
The show opened up with Corey Taylor of Slipknot singing “Vicious,” the first track off “Transformer,” and it sounded amazing. His voice is so good we would have been just as happy to listen to him sing the rest of the album, but he had to share the mic with the rest of the guests.
Billy Idol and Taylor Hawkins (Foo Fighters) were supposed to be there to perform, but had to back out at the last minute due to illness. Upon the start of Lou Reed’s, “Walk on the Wild Side,” Navarro introduced one of their replacements with surprise guest – Red Hot Chili Peppers singer Anthony Kiedis – and the crowd went silent with shock and immense anticipation. When Kiedis walked onstage, the crowd (including ourselves) cheered with excitement. Afterwards, Navarro said that it’s been about 25 years since the two former bandmates had been onstage together.
Billy Morrison blew the crowd away with his beautiful rendition of “Perfect Day,” and we couldn’t have been happier as it is a favorite among Lou Reed fans.
Though there were some musician changes, the list included Josh Freese (Devo, The Offspring, Weezer, Sting, Paramore), Chris Chaney (Jane’s Addiction, Alanis Morissette), Piggy D (Rob Zombie), Dave Kushner (Velvet Revolver, Danzig), Erik Eldenius and Steve Stevens (Billy Idol). He didn’t sing, but we know even Matt Pinfield was backstage enjoying the show.
Jane’s Addiction front-man Perry Farrell, and his wife Etty Lau Farrell, sang “Satellite of Love.” It was in a soft, low key you don’t normally hear Farrell use, so it was attention grabbing. To hear him hit those low notes while his lovely wife sang support with the backup singers really made the Lou Reed choruses pop!
Singer Franky Perez was the album closer and was dressed in his late-night crooner attire with fitted suit pants, button-up shirt, and undone tie. Perez sang “Goodnight, Ladies” and left the crowd and other musicians in utter shock of his immeasurable voice. His voice was so exceptional; it caused Navarro to respond with some expletives about how superb his rendition was. Morrison followed Navarro by saying that he originally thought it would be a great idea to finish the Lou Reed portion of the show with “Sweet Jane,” but he regretted it after realizing he’d have to follow the amazing performance by Perez. We think Morrison did a great job as well.
To start off the 20-minute intermission, Mark McGrath became an auctioneer and auctioned off four original paintings to the crowd. The pieces were done by Morrison, Navarro, artist Risk Rock, and the final by Shepard Fairey (who did the “Hope” Obama poster). They all sold for impressive prices with all proceeds going to MusiCares. Event host Dr. Drew Pinsky spent a few minutes talking about the importance of mental health awareness and reiterated the excellent work MusiCares does.
After waiting patiently for the next round of performers, the curtain came up again and Corey Taylor was ready – with his sanitized mic – to start off “Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols.” Red confetti shot into the air as Taylor sang “Holidays in the Sun” and it proceeded to fall throughout the set, adding to the Sex Pistols celebration. After a few songs, Morrison joked with the crowd that the track number list on this album was different in each country so they decided to use their own sequence.
Mark McGrath returned to the stage to sing “No Feelings” and it was like listening to Johnny Rotten himself! Our jaws dropped as he sang in perfect imitation of the Sex Pistols front-man.
After McGrath was Jason Butler of Fever 333 and he bounded on to the stage with so much energy and enthusiasm! He even used a tall speaker stand in the corner as his platform, climbing to the top like it was a totem pole.
Franky Perez came back for “Seventeen” and showed us he’s not a one-trick pony with a pretty voice. Perez can sing Sex Pistols tunes – with the accent included! For this performance, Perez had the suit jacket to match his pants, but not the shirt on underneath. That’s one way to get the most use out of one suit without a whole wardrobe change!
Perry Farrell had the pleasure of singing “Anarchy in the UK,” and ripped the stage apart in his black leather jacket and signature voice. It was quite a sight to see so many members of Jane’s Addiction performing Sex Pistols together.
Morrison introduced another surprise guest to fill the spot for either Idol or Hawkins: Dexter Holland from The Offspring. Holland sang “God Save the Queen” while also playing guitar. He stayed for one more song after that, and then released the singing duties to the next performer.
To bring it all home, Morrison invited all the musicians that had been on stage that night to join Mark McGrath in singing “EMI.” It was a lovely evening, all in the name of helping others and knowing you and the people onstage were joining together to do good things and help people struggling with mental wellness.
Sometimes, big events don’t live up to the hype. On December 20th, Above Ground definitely lived up to all expectations. It was an event we won’t forget any time soon.