A little under eighteen years ago, I was standing in about this same place with the same view below. It was a little earlier in the day, the sun was out more and all, but the stage was still filled with fog and at the center of it was an individual wearing black, on tour with his band on a multi-act bill, playing the song “Terrible Lie” just like was the case when I took this photo last night at what was Irvine Meadows Ampitheatre and is now called Verizon Ampitheatre or something similar.
Hi there, Trent Reznor, leader of Nine Inch Nails. Glad to have you back again and all.
I hadn’t been planning on attending this tour, actually. The announcement of a Nine Inch Nails/Jane’s Addiction co-headlining tour earlier this year — named, with a strained logic, NINJA — caused a flicker of interest, certainly. As I hope has been made clear enough via a variety of past posts, I am quite the fan of Mr. Reznor and have been for years, and have seen him enough times to know he puts on a show and all.
Meantime, Jane’s Addiction has been through enough revivals and the like that I admit my eyes long since glazed over about anything involving Perry Farrell running out of money again (or whatever drives him to reassemble the band every so often). But the fact that this time around the one member who had actually been my hero for never participating in the reunions ever since the original breakup back in 1991 decided to come on board this time — bassist Eric A., whose majestic work, simple but devastatingly effective, on songs like “Up the Beach,” “Summertime Rolls,” “Mountain Song” and “Three Days,” says it all (note how he starts each song, how that bass is at once warm, inviting and powerful, setting the entire tone of each performance that follows).
Still I was kinda unsure. Then my friend Tom picked up an extra ticket in payback for the Depeche tickets I’d scored for us and a mutual friend earlier this year and I figured, “Well, why not?” At the same time, having learned that they were playing at this particular, my own back and forth again qualms about reunion and retrospective shows came roaring back. It’s not that this was planned by the bands per se — this is a venue that acts regularly play and all, that’s the whole point of it to start with. But inevitably I could only flashback.
1991 was the year of the first Lollapalooza, Perry Farrell’s attempt to translate the spirit of the Reading Festival in the UK to the US, only via a collective tour instead of a fixed location. No need for me to go into detail about it but the smash success of said tour and its immediate successors, combined with that of similar tours covering other general styles, helped lay the eventual groundwork for that kind of fixed-festival location approach that now dominates summer shows, with Coachella being the obvious forebear there in turn. Whatever else one may think about the two related models, their impact on assumptions of how music is packaged, seen and appreciated is now simply a baseline commonplace.
And there I was, twenty years old, going to enjoy the show. Some acts I’d already seen, others I was finally seeing for the first time. That included NIN and Jane’s both, who I’d actually seen earlier that year together in LA, NIN being the opener there of course. They’d only just started to fully catch fire over the previous year, where Jane’s at that point were legitimate hometown heroes — only Guns’n’Roses were bigger as a rock act when it came to LA and they were already in a stratosphere all their own, where Jane’s were rapidly rising but still just enough of a personal secret of sorts, a classic example of being able to catch a band still arcing upward.
What I remember of both Lollapalooza sets was that they were pretty good — Trent’s aggressive/artistic approach to performing and staging was already well set, and if everything since then has been little but refinement, it’s because he’s always been able to throw poses and shapes with the rest of them, if not better. A friend once said that he destroyed industrial music in order to save it, and while that’s an exaggeration it does sum up the endgame approach he ended up playing — the logical product of a previous decade’s music wrapping up everything in a ball of wax and figuring out how to sell it back to America. What matter if he looked a little goofy playing Pretty Hate Machine songs in almost total daylight when darkness and bright lights suited things better, really?
And Jane’s were Jane’s — one of those acts that was always better live than in studio, much as I love the studio work. I regret not seeing them more at the time than I did — there’s a Palladium show from late 1990 in particular I wish I could have seen, with the Pixies opening; happily that show is included in the new Jane’s box set. But like Radiohead, for instance, everything great about Jane’s in studio kicked up so much more live — the versions of “Three Days” I saw them do at those shows remain jawdropping moments of absolute perfection, willful self-rock-god deification that worked.
Last night Tom, his friend Sue and I made it into the parking lot and discovered that Trent was opening this night, and in fact was about to play. I admit nothing was going to stop me at that point and as soon as I could I found myself at the point where I took the photo, sitting back against a barrier and letting it all happen. A great set, certainly — I’d been told to keep an eye out for Ilan Rubin, the drummer (thanks Brad for the trip!) and he was a monster but also knew how to do things subtly — not bad for someone who was only a year old when Pretty Hate Machine came out. Meantime plenty of people in the crowd were younger than that too, emphasizing the weird time-warp feature that was running in my head during the entirety of the show.
Another time warp thing was more unfortunate, but reflected the last time I saw the band in 2007 in London — a set list that relied heavily, too heavily really, on The Downward Spiral. A great album then and now, but also not an album I need to hear again, it’s pretty much inculcated in my memory. Frankly it’s the newer stuff I keep wanting to hear from Trent and company, as well as the interesting oddities like (as played last night but this link is from a few days ago) his cover of Gary Numan’s “Metal,” first done in studio about fifteen years back. But that was relegated to the side for the most part — only about four songs or so were even from the whole of this decade, doubly frustrating given that this has been his most productive yet, releasing more albums in the past five years than he had done in the previous fifteen. And to be sure, the killer conclusion of “The Hand That Feeds” and “Head Like a Hole,” (the latter from an earlier show but anyway) a smart combination of then and now, was worth it.
Still, it fed into the whole sense of grinding my wheels a bit — I understand why he takes this approach, and maybe I just keep catching him on the wrong nights (more than most he varies up his set lists). Of course, if I was eighteen instead of thirty-eight and this was my first time seeing him I’d be feeling a LOT different. And on balance it was a fine show, no regrets.
But after that, as we were waiting for Jane’s, Tom, Sue and I talked and we all agreed — we didn’t need to stay. Home sounded pretty inviting and Jane’s, well, even for me and even with Eric A. on board, Jane’s just wasn’t thrilling me as an idea this time around. I would have been happy to see them if they were opening for NIN but that was not the case this night, and I’d already literally been there and done that with both bands, NIN opening for Jane’s, twice before. I didn’t need a third time — and NIN, at least, had always kept going, a one-man band of course but still, working, touring, releasing, being busier than ever, resting on past laurels to an extent but never actually stopping. Not the story of Jane’s by a long shot, where the jokes about their inevitable reunion were being made back in 1991 even before their final shows then.
So we left, and as we did so we heard the opening notes of “Three Days” begin, Eric A.’s basslines prompting the crowd into a huge roar. I hope they all had a great time. I already had.