It was a breezy Sunday night (June 7) in Long Island, NY, and 15,000 black-clad rockers were congregating at the oceanside Jones Beach amphitheater, all of them ready to party like it’s 1991.
That was, of course, the year of Perry Ferrell’s inaugural Lollapalooza festival, the stage where his band Jane’s Addiction — the metal-tinged patriarch of late-’80s alt-rock — took its final bow. It’s also where an angry young man named Trent Reznor, the mastermind behind Nine Inch Nails, first began thrashing and smashing his way into mainstream consciousness. Now, nearly two decades later, these benchmark bands of rock ‘n’ roll angst have teamed up for the NIN|JA tour, a raucous double-bill that sent many a middle-aging rocker digging through crates for a tattered pair of Doc Martens.
Like Lolla ’91, NIN|JA ’09 finds the two groups on unequal footing. Nine Inch Nails remains one of the ballsiest and most belligerent bands in biz and continues to sell out stadiums with its vigor, vitality and credibility firmly in tact. The Jane’s members have found varying degrees of success over the years, but their individual triumphs have largely occurred away from recording studios or concert stages.
With his closely-cropped hair, all-black ensemble, and white armband strapped around his right bicep, Reznor looked armed for battle as he led his three-man band through 21 tracks from the NIN catalog. The set lifted off ferociously, with the trio of “Terrible Lie,” “Heresy,” and “March of the Pigs” almost shaking the near-capacity crowd out of its seats. While the band’s 2008 “Lights in the Sky” tour was an extravagant A/V feast of hi-tech indulgence, NIN has stripped itself to the bone – visually and musically – for this trek. No LED curtains or meandering instrumentals, just Reznor and co. tearing through songs with minimal fanfare and a frantic, cantankerous energy reminiscent of their early gigs.
The band snuck a pair of covers (Gary Numan’s “Metal” and David Bowie’s “I’m Afraid of Americans”) into the set among more recent crowd-pleasers like “Survivalism” and “The Hand That Feeds” and classic pit-starters “Wish,” “Gave Up” and “Burn.” After a fiery performance of “Head Like a Hole,” – its chorus of “I’d rather die than give you control” taking on new relevance given Reznor’s recent DIY approach – the quartet returned to the stage for a hushed version of “Hurt,” ending their show on a poignant note and moodily setting the stage for the main event.
The Jane’s set began on the same sullen vibe, with bassist Eric Avery’s restrained, low-end pulse kicking off “Three Days,” the band’s most epic track. As the 11-minute song grew from a whisper to a scream, each member got a chance to flex his muscles. Drummer Stephen Perkins pounded the skins with tribal intensity, while a tattooed, bare-chested Dave Navarro played a heavy, almost mystical guitar solo that confirmed his proficiency as one of rock’s premiere axe-men. Ferrell took the commanding role as the band’s ringleader, skipping and gyrating across the stage with theatrical grace, grinning impishly as he howled towards the sky.
Though Ferrell still wields one of the most recognizable voices in modern rock, he struggled to hit the shrill, alien highs that once made hairs stand on end. In fact, many of the songs have been transposed to lower keys to accommodate his vocal restrictions. Sadly, the limitations are palpable. Simmering songs suffered the most in translation, as peaks of classics like “Then She Did…” and “Ted, Just Admit It” were now punctuated with periods rather than exclamation points.
Still, the set wasn’t without its moments. Tracks like “Whores” and “Pigs in Zen” grooved with the guttural intensity of their glory days, while heavy rockers like “Mountain Song,” “Ocean Size” and “Been Caught Stealing” prove potent head bangers. After reviving the crowd with a rendition of “Stop!,” the band wound down with an anti-climactic rendition of “Jane Says,” a signature tune that left fans wishing for the luster of the Jane’s Addiction that once was.
Nine Inch Nails setlist:
“March of the Pigs”
“Metal” (Gary Numan cover)
“I’m Afraid of Americans” (David Bowie cover)
“I Do Not Want This”
“The Downward Spiral”
“The Hand That Feeds”
“Head Like a Hole”
Jane’s Addiction setlist:
“Ain’t No Right”
“Pigs in Zen”
“Then She Did…”
“Up the Beach”
“Been Caught Stealing”
“Had a Dad”
“Ted, Just Admit It”