View more photos in the “Nine Inch Nails & Jane's Addiction” slideshow.
Jane's Addiction, Nine Inch Nails and Street Sweeper Social Club at Verizon Amphitheater, May 20
After playing a few small, local shows late last year, photos of Jane's Addiction in the studio with Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor surfaced online. If only, us fans thought. An album collaboration seemed unclear, but plans for a joint North American tour soon came to fruition, marking the first time these bands would share the stage since the inaugural Lollapalooza in 1991. Aside from songs about swine, musically, the two don't have much in common; Jane's Addiction were punk and prog rock's hippy offspring, while NIN put industrial on the map. But Jane's Addiction's beach-bumming metal laid out the blueprint for much of alt-rock, making NIN a '90s giant and Reznor an accidental sex symbol.
The NIN/JA tour — the end of NIN as a touring entity and the return of a reunited Jane's, both after a near 20-year span — was Reznor's idea, following an announcement on his website about wanting to make the band “disappear for a while.” It's a shame, though. Whether modern radio or music television are no longer viable outlets, or whether Reznor wants to score for film, play with his iPhone apps all day or make babies with his soon-to-be wife, NIN will always be a powerhouse live.
After an opening set by the Street Sweeper Social Club, guitarist Tom Morello's latest incarnation with rapper Boots Riley, NIN charged the stage, Reznor's body looking like it would explode in a fit of 'roid rage if there were any technical difficulties. But it was very much bare bones. Whereas previous NIN tours were visual feasts of special effects — all the work of a lighting director who was clearly neglected as a child — Reznor had these performances stripped down, save for the stage smoke. The ear-shredding that ensued, however, was anything but. Reznor sang with all the subtlety of drill sergeant on “Survivalism,” barking at the audience as if were were soldiers marching through Red Square, while “Mr. Self Destruct” did just what the title says.
And no two-legged being can resist dancing to the twin-drum tracks of “March of the Pigs” and “Wish.” The rest of the set was culled from nearly all of NIN's eight albums, beginning and ending with “Terrible Lie” and “Head Like a Hole,” two early hits that went back to, well, the beginning (1989's Pretty Hate Machine); Reznor reneged on his promise about not playing any hits. On “The Hand That Feeds,” NIN's comeback single off of 2005's With Teeth, however, Reznor really did sound like this was his final kiss-off after years of bowing down to record labels.
When Reznor grabbed the guitar and joined in a small circle his two axmen, longtime member Robin Finck and Justin Meldal-Johnsen (formerly of Beck), the band, along with drummer Ilan Rubin, truly looked like a brotherhood. NIN's always had a revolving door, but credit the main man for keeping his crew happy. Reznor's still hanging off the mike stand as if both the stand and his boots were bolted to the ground, but he's not kicking his instruments around anymore. He held off until the end, throwing his guitar across the stage and walking off, never to return. No encore, no air-kiss goodbye. Reznor might've been too choked up with emotions, but that's not much of a farewell for fans who've sat through countless tours, not to mention hours of traffic, to share in the send-off.
If Reznor is a man of few words, Jane's Addiction's Perry Farrell — still skin and bones and pointy nose — is all silly, chatty nonsense. (Somewhere out there, a traveling Renaissance Faire is missing its fool.) Wearing sequined pants, a feathered hat and psychedelic blouse, Farrell strutted around the stage like a funky rooster alongside the perennially shirtless Dave Navarro, stoic-looking original bassist Eric Avery and mohawked drummer Stephen Perkins. They're not a touchey-feeley bunch, and whether their reunion lasts beyond June remains to be seen; while Perkins called out the members' names during the band's exit, Avery had already walked off. But whatever ugly history exists between these four, it didn't translate during the performance, which kicked off with the epic, menage a trois story of “Three Days.”
The rest of the night included the best from Jane's Addiction's self-titled debut, Nothing's Shocking and Ritual de lo Habitual (2003's Strays? Never heard of it). “Mountain Song” is a written-in-stone classic and “Ain't No Right” is just a vicious little ditty. On “Stop!,” we sang back “Goddamn radio,” while the serial killer-inspired “Ted, Just Admit It” sounded even more epic live, even if Farrell himself called it “sloppy.” Say what you will about Navarro; Hollywood fame whore, amateur pornographer. The guy has mastered his craft and he's definitely up there in the pantheon of guitar gods.
Jane's was never everyone's cup of tea, but listening to Farrell and his hippy-dippy, cosmic jive is always a hoot. “This place is like my favorite drink, filled to the top,” he greeted the crowd like a kid easily amused by shiny objects. If he wasn't shaking his hips or doing pelvic thrusts while lying on his back, he was regaling us with stories about taking his kids to the Lion Country Safari in Irvine and how America is like a basketball game and Obama is our point guard.
At one point, someone threw a shoe on stage, a reference to the 1990 live Palladium recording of “Ain't No Right,” where Farrell chastises an audience member for throwing a Birkenstock. “He doesn't even understand fashion!” Farrell did concentrate long enough to remember the first time the band played Verizon opening for Social Distortion and X, which prompted Navarro to break into the intro to X's “The Hungry Wolf.” But, hey, you too would be asking “What day is it?” if you were drinking a lot of wine.
“Jane Says,” the band's ode to their friend and one-time roommate who inspired their namesake, was an obvious closer. But if we had to pick another track that epitomized a band birthed in a Hollywood house, it would have to be “Summertime Rolls,” a song that'll continue to ooze L.A. through its pores whether Jane's is around in its original glory or not.