For those of you who missed my post-show tweets, or prefer slightly more exposition than 140 characters will allow, here’s my review of last night’s NIN/JA (Nine Inch Nails/Jane’s Addiction) show.
Street Sweeper Social Club
“We’re gonna be the biggest band in the world with the stupidest name ever,” Frontman Boots Riley (The Coup) said in between numbers. Guess which part of that statement is true? Poor Boots. He’s a legit dude, with a real revolutionary perspective. But this band isn’t the right vehicle for him. If you wanna know what SSSC sound like, picture Rage Against the Machine with fratboy shout-along choruses. Tom Morello is a fine player, and this is definitely a guitarist’s band. Then again, so is Slash’s Snakepit.
Nine Inch Nails
Trent Reznor is a perfectionist, and it shows. The current lineup of the band is killer (Robin Finck is back!), and they invest even the well-worn NIN standards with urgency. Downward Spiral deep cut “The Becoming” was transformed from its clunky 1990s roots into a seething statement of pre-Singularity angst. Even “I Just Want Something I Can Never Have,” from NIN’s debut Pretty Hate Machine, was stately and persuasive, unlike the unlistenably whiny studio version. Industrial-rock barnstormers “March of the Pigs” and “Wish” were taut and confrontational, and late-period fluff like “With Teeth” sounded way better live than I’d have expected. (For all you snobby haters: Trent can still bring the noise — he’s got a better grasp of electronic skronk than 90 percent of today’s sonic destruktors, plus he can make it work in a song.) Rumor has it this is NIN’s last hurrah. What a great way to go out.
A crucial disappointment. Much of the blame can be ascribed to Perry Farrell — once a raving punk libertine with a fierce sensuality and an utterly anarchic agenda; now a blank-gazed automaton with zero connection to the druggy potency of his band’s catalog. And they sounded like TOTAL ASS tuned down. Jane’s used to snap, crackle and pop. Now they’re just soggy.
Perry’s creative vision on the original JA albums is inextricably linked to his tragic (and disturbing) relationship with a teenage artist/drug casualty named Xiola Blue, whose oversized spirit haunts Jane’s classics like “And Then She Did” and “Three Days.” Both of these songs are still capable of raising the hair on the back of my neck, but not the versions I heard last night. I don’t think Perry even remembers who he was back then. These days, he’s a clownish, cartoon facsimile of his former savage splendor.
The band can still play, for sure. But downtuning for Perry’s voice dulls the music’s once-thrilling acidity. Even with these accommodations, Perry is still conservative about how and when he applies his banshee wail. And without that unearthly siren cutting through the psych-punk noodling, the songs never truly soar.
Dave Navarro has great chops and fantastic abs. But I miss the shy, skinny kid in sunglasses and a skirt who stood, near motionless, as molten licks flew from his black nail-polished fingertips. Now he’s got all these “rock moves” — the spread leg axe straddle; the full-stop spins; the look over the shoulder at someone or something backstage. Sad.
Steve Perkins is a killer drummer — one of the few skinsmen of my generation who can be truly said to have his own style. And it’s awesome to see Eric Avery back in the fold. But it seems like they’re just going through the motions. I mean, how can you be onstage with today’s Dave Navarro and Perry Farrell and not be embarrassed? I feel bad for anyone whose first and/or only impression of Jane’s Addiction is Perry preening in his sparkly lamé suits like Mick Jagger‘s gawky understudy.
On the way out (I actually left during one of my fave songs, “Summertime Rolls,” because I couldn’t take any more), I struck up a conversation with a 20-something who complained that his generation doesn’t have great bands like Jane’s Addiction. I agreed with him, and tried to describe how much more *real* they used to be. I think he got what I was trying to say. What I took away from that conversation is that today’s manufactured pop-hop and polished butt-rock just isn’t enough. Nor is so-called “indie” rock. Watching NIN, I realized that you really do need professionals of a certain caliber to inspire wide swaths of people to share a tribal rock experience. Even modern jam-rock doesn’t cut it, because it’s as fake as anything else out there. I guess what I’m asking — and that kid was asking, too — is, where’s today’s Pixies or JA?
Oh, I got to hang with Morello backstage for a few, and chatted a bit with Perry, Eric and Dave before they hit the stage. It didn’t make up for anything.