Tickets in hand, I arrived with my companions at the much anticipated NIN/JA tour stop in New Jersey. The PNC Bank Arts Center (formerly the Garden State Arts Center, I believe,) is a fine amphitheatre for such a show. It’s like every other concrete amphitheatre ever built; good sight lines, easy to navigate open spaces and otherwise totally unremarkable.
The evening’s first act was the Street Sweeper Social Club. Now, when I hear the words “Tom Morello side project,” I instantly get a little nervous. I’ve heard the Nightwatchman. Nothing there worth talking about. So it was with a touch of skepticism that I saw them take the stage. The other prominent member of the band is lead singer Boots Riley, who you may or may not remember from the Oakland-based rap trio The Coup. Anyway, as they got into their set, I found myself pleasantly surprised.
The band is tight, Morello is right at home with more rap-rock distortion riffs, and the drum beats pulse hard and heavy. Riley himself is a charismatic front man by virtue of the energy he imparts to the stage show. He dances with intensity during each song, finding and feeling the pounding rhythms as they go by. One of the more interesting moments of the set was the band unveiling a cover of MIA’s “Paper Planes.” While I agree that there is potential for that song to be remade into a harsher edition, there was nothing about Street Sweeper Social Club’s version that suggested they had made it their own. It was essentially the same song with a different singer. Still, throw in “100 Little Curses,” “Clap for the Killers” and “Fight! Smash! Win!” and it was an impressive set. Rage Against the Machine fans looking for a fix may be disappointed here, as it never quite reaches that stage of frenzy. Still, there’s a lot to like.
So bring on Nine Inch Nails. Trent Reznor has made it widely known that he expects this to be his last tour with Nine Inch Nails, as he’d like to try and do some other things with his life. So, here he was opening for Jane’s Addiction, the same band that had invited him to play Lollapalooza when his career was first starting. Fitting how it would end as it began. The first thing I noticed was that while still maintaining an impressive one, Trent left the grandiose light show home. While as intense and imposing a presence as ever, Reznor seemed somewhat more humble than I have seen him in previous shows. He still growled out the lyrics to “Wish” and “Last” with the same ferocity as ever, but there just a hint of a weight being lifted in his body language.
Fan favorite and long time drummer Josh Freese was not with the band this time, nor were some other of Trent’s favorite session musicians. Still, the set list contained a number of expected classics, such as “March of the Pigs,” “Survivalism,” and personal favorite “Gave Up.” Also mixed in were the best trio of songs from the newest album “The Slip”; “1,000,000,” “Discipline” and “Echoplex,” almost in that order. I also got the impression that Trent has thrown in a small number of songs that he either hasn’t played in a long time, or are personal favorites. Unexpected but pleasant surprises included “Reptile,” and one of the highlights of the entire set, a pounding, relentless “Mr. Self Destruct.” Conspicuously absent from the set list were “Terrible Lie,” and “Down In It,” crowd favorites which usually see the light of day.
The set closed with a sing-along of “Head Like a Hole,” and then for the last time, an encore of “Hurt.” Trent doesn’t even have to sing “Hurt” at this point, as the crowd (except me, I’m not a fan of the song,) will gladly do the work for him. As a side note, no virtual lighters, KISS or otherwise, were spotted. Following an hour and fifteen minute set, a sweaty, grateful and possibly relieved Trent Reznor retreated backstage, having performed another chapter in the swan song of his storied performing career. The set was at times frenetic, brutal, unrelenting, brooding, catchy and finally, quiet. The crowd cheered for minutes on end, showing their appreciation of another great performance, perhaps the last they will see.
Last band standing was the reunited Jane’s Addiction. They sounded great, especially considering how long it’s been since they last played together with any consistency. The songs were tight, the lights spectacular, the sound was crisp. To watch the band members closely though, was to see that this might be the last reunion for Jane’s Addiction for a long time. The infighting which led them to break up all those years ago began again almost immediately after the reunion.
Trent Reznor wrote in his blog about how the band has asked him to mediate disputes between Perry Farrell and bassist Eric Avery. Hell, even the New York Times had an article about it. There is a feeling hanging over the stage that if you’re a Jane’s fan, get in to see them now; you may not get another chance. To watch Avery and Farrell and Dave Navarro on the stage is to watch three consummate professionals who are also three wildly different types of people. Avery barely has anything to do with the other two, preferring to remain over on his third of the stage, stomping around in circles while he pumps out his signature hook-laded bass riffs.
Navarro is on the opposite side, playing to the crowd, showing his guitar expertise, playing fast and loose. Farrell stands between them, still the same rail-thin man possessed of a voice that seems ill-matched to his body. He feels each note, dancing around like a twirling stage performer in bright clothing. He is, at points, equal parts Ian Anderson and Freddy Mercury. Known for his sometimes humorous but mostly odd banter, Farrell expounded on a few subjected, though damned if I could tell you what they were. All that said, the whole is more than equal to its parts, as the band wended its way through the rough encyclopedia of their hits; “Been Caught Stealing,” “Ain’t No Right,” “Mountain Song,” “Ocean Size,” and a handful of others. While the longer songs tended to lose momentum in the middle, the crowd was ready to be a part of whatever came next. The fairly long encore was as expected, featuring among other things, “Stop!” and then bringing out the steel drums for “Jane Says.”
In the end, a really good show with three talented and top level acts. The only shame is that we might not get a chance to see them again.