Story and photos by Greg M. Schwartz
Anticipation was high at Austin’s Frank Erwin Center Tuesday Night as two of the architects of alternative rock joined forces once again to give fans a fine taste of that late 20th century flavor. Jane’s Addiction and Nine Inch Nails first teamed up on the original Lollapalooza tour in 1991 for a groundbreaking tour. With most of their peers from the era having disbanded, it made seeing two such acts together again on the aptly dubbed “NIN/JA” tour a rare treat for fans of that still highly influential era.
This reporter was never a huge NIN fan, as their industrial sound just isn’t quite my cup of tea. But there’s no denying that tunes such as “Head Like a Hole” and “The Hand That Feeds” rocked with an impressive power. Aside from the diehards up front though, most of the crowd didn’t really seem that into the set — fans in the upper levels were sitting down. NIN frontman Trent Reznor acknowledged the atmosphere after the show.
“Not one of our better shows. Despite our efforts we seemed unable to win over the crowd. Texas ends with a whisper,” twittered Reznor after his band’s 90 minute set.
Perhaps it was because the majority of attendees were actually there to see Jane’s Addiction. NIN have certainly been far busier as far as albums and tours over the years, but I dare say that Jane’s Nothing Shocking and Ritual de lo Habitual albums are packed with far more classics than NIN have achieved in their entire catalogue.
Reznor gets props for recognizing Jane’s classic status though, which is why he is plenty content to play first and then enjoy getting to watch one of his favorite bands. He’s even tried to referee the internal battles that continue to plague his tempestuous tour mates.
Jane’s hit the stage with their mesmerizing epic “Three Days” and instantly commanded the arena. Perry Farrell looked none the worse for wear from a torn calf muscle he’d suffered in Atlanta and seemed his normally energetic self. Seeing the rhythm section of drummer Stephen Perkins and bassist Eric Avery back in action (Avery left the band in the early ‘90s and didn’t play on tours in 2002 and 2003) provided a stellar flashback, with Avery not missing a beat. But it’s guitarist Dave Navarro who really makes the band’s sound so addictive to alt-rock junkies.
Navarro was in fine form from the start, ripping off melting hot leads in nearly every tune. The man just has a presence about him, not to mention his skill at channeling rock gods like Page and Hendrix while mixing such classic influences with his own psychedelic bag of funky tricks.
“Pigs in Zen” was another early highlight that kept the energy ascending, but it was “Coming Down the Mountain” that really set the house on fire. Avery’s signature bass line clued in the crowd, which exploded when Farrell and the rest of the band kicked into the tune. The band was firing on all cylinders here, while the ever-charismatic Farrell reveled in his quasi-shamanic ringleader role.
The group’s seminal ability to merge classic rock psychedelia with harder edged punk and funk influences is the source of their immense influence on the music world. With peers like Billy Corgan, Slash and Flea all testifying to the band’s majesty in the liner notes of their new box set Cabinet of Curiosities, the immense reach of that influence is clear.
“Been Caught Stealing” was pure party time with its funky groove and Farrell’s most amusing lyrics, a combo that made the song the band’s biggest hit. Farrell was clearly having a blast, with a contagious effect on the crowd. “Nothing Shocking,” on the other hand, brought back the band’s mesmerizing side, entrancing the audience as bizarre images played on the curtain screen that was partially unrolled, while the band spun their dark and moody tale.
The set kept building until it reached the cathartic climax of “Ocean Size,” a tune whose musical power does indeed match that of the oceanic metaphor for which it’s named. It was moments like this where the surroundings started to evaporate and it almost did feel like 1991. The ability to bend the space-time continuum in such a way is no small feat.
The sensational encore trio was almost like a mini-set of its own. “Summertime Rolls” set the stage with an ambient and melodic sound that just seemed to wash over the soul. Yet another ripping solo by Navarro hit the mark again.
“Stop” kicked the groove party back into motion with one of the most high energy songs of the evening, with Navarro and company giving it their all and the crowd responding in kind. The song had a hard rocking jam reminiscent of Phish’s “Carini,” although it was probably Jane’s that influenced Phish more than vice versa (the jamrock kings have been known to cover “Been Caught Stealing.”)
“Jane Says” ended the show in triumphant fashion, as the band opened the song with another ambient, yet groovy jam that built like a wave before crashing into the opening chords of what’s become a campfire sing-along classic about a girl and her addiction.
Whether the band can make their peace to stay together and move forward remains to be seen. But it would be a shame if they can’t, because the mojo is still there.