Then-current album: Ritual de Lo Habitual
Opening act: Nine Inch Nails
Back of ticket ad: “YOU COULD BE HOLDING A SUPERBOWL TICKET. CHECK THE NATIONAL SPORTS DAILY.” Uh, no.
And we’re back to the old typeset approach in this instance — there’d be recurrences of this in the next year or two but otherwise this was a dying approach being phased out. Which would be the cue for nostalgia in many cases, but not here.
Meanwhile, getting to this show took long enough.
Jane’s were very much a college thing for me, an LA thing as well. Perry Farrell would have you believing they were a totally unique thing as well, which they were and weren’t. Later the connections made more sense — at the time people always talked about Led Zeppelin but that was because most rock critics talking about Jane’s seemed to only want to frame them in the most obvious of contexts, and even that wasn’t so obvious upon a second glance. In my head now they’re a culmination of a lot of different things from the area — X and the Germs (both of whom Jane’s covered), the Gun Club, undercurrents courtesy of Red Temple Spirits and Savage Republic and the whole Nate Starkman and Sons. deal and etc.
But that’s in my head NOW. Then, they were just these mysterious gods on earth, sorta.
Jon Edmundson, the coworker who’d set me straight on just who it was that Joan Jett was covering a couple of years previously, was the first fan I knew and he did something that many of us have always secretly wanted to do — play loud music in a library. The SRLF, where we worked, wasn’t actually open to the public, so we could and did play tapes and CDs and things in the stacks to our hearts’ content, and I still remember the sound of songs like “Ocean Size” and “Summertime Rolls” barrelling through empty metallic structures yet to hold books. By the time the then-heavily-delayed Ritual de Lo Habitual came out in summer of 1990 I was one of a horde of people snapping that sucker up on the day of release — bootlegs had been circulating like crazy but I’d held off as long as I could stand it.
Still hadn’t seen them, though, so I kept hearing about random things like shows on top of Mt. Baldy and elsewhere. Then a show was announced for late 1990 at the Palladium but for some utterly unknown reason I couldn’t make it. (Finals? Was I out of town?) To make matters worse, the Pixies opened and so I had to miss them for the second year in a row. Live tracks from the show surfaced on singles and the Jane’s box set that came out last year has the whole thing on it so there’s that, I guess, but still, what a double bill.
But then hot on the heels of that came word of this show. And THAT was a double bill. I’d picked up and gotten into Pretty Hate Machine almost immediately after its release thanks to a coterie of friends at KLA so Trent Reznor was pretty damn familiar to me by this point, though again I’d missed at least one appearance by him already if not more. That wasn’t going to happen again and next thing I know I’m back in the Universal Ampitheatre once more, starting to feel something like familiar stomping grounds.
Though since I have no exact sense of who it was I went with — I want to say it was at least one of my roommates, maybe Beau, and possibly my friends Kris and Steve too — it makes the experience a touch more vague than some. But I was also starting to feel like things were accelerating a bit overall when it came to music, and maybe with life itself (though at the time of the show I still wasn’t even twenty years old yet). Deep into my third year of college I’d been attending shows fairly sporadically as noted but by now I’d fully settled in with a strong circle of musically-inclined friends and roommates — besides Beau (and through him his friend Dave S.) there were Xana and Jen as well on the roommate front, friends included a huge KLA coterie — thus Kris and Steve but also Eric J. L. — and everything was starting to spark off all that much more. Shows weren’t something to space out by months, they were something to start to grab when one could — whenever one could.
And so this show, the first of three times in the space of two decades where these two bands were on the bill together and I was there to see it. I remember entering the theater area and Nine Inch Nails were already on stage, so at last, beyond some video clips and photos, I got to see what Mr. Reznor was all about live. Pretty sure I’d heard or read about his method of randomly attacking or seeming to attack his bandmates — or more properly his touring band, given how closely and clearly NIN was Trent and vice versa — and sure enough I think the first random jumping on a keyboardist was within the space of a song or two. Though I think the most extreme version of that came with the cover of Queen’s “Get Down Make Love,” which found him attempting to do things with Richard Patrick that probably explained why the latter eventually gave up and founded his own band.
“Head Like a Hole” ended the main set and it had already become something of an anthem — hell, it IS an anthem — and I think several roadies joined in on stage to add further guitars. Satisfyingly ridiculous and over the top — and I think I thought the same at the time. I hope I thought the same, but who knows if I did. Mostly I remember one roadie being a bit dumpy.
And then Jane’s. The importance of Jane’s live was in first encountering a phenomenon that has played out a bit for me since — the sudden sense of knowing that a band is nowhere near as good in the studio as they are onstage. Which given that I’d been playing the albums over and over again might sound odd — but then again, that first album of theirs was a live album to start with (aside from “I Would For You,” possibly their most underrated song, soft, minimal, almost not there, an approach they never tried otherwise and one which suggests alternate histories and possibilities).
Actually seeing Jane’s live, watching the band play, hearing them all go for it in ways that were simultaneously keeping each other and trying to top one another when possible, that was a good feeling for the fact that it was unexpected. As with everything I’d seen so far, at least when it came to the headliners, I knew what to expect and I knew they were good because I’d already heard them and liked them a lot, such was the point. To come in with that and then to have your expectations shredded by just how good a band can be, that was something else.
Now, of course Perry Farrell had a few things to say. Keep the date in mind — at this point the Gulf War was on and nobody knew exactly how it would end up or what was going to occur next. (Arguably we still don’t.) If I didn’t feel the sense of urgent unsure chaos in the background that I did for the Depeche show, something still lingered in the air and I have a dim memory of Farrell using “Pigs in Zen,” as he often did, for a monologue about things that weren’t all profound and/or were terribly annoying. (I’m sure a fair amount of the sentiments I actually agreed with but he has a knack of making such sentiments seem like something you want to disavow.)
But all that was made up for by the performance. If, as any number of writers have rightly observed over the years, it’s a mistake to assume that rock = the pinnacle of all things musical, it’s no less a mistake to assume that there’s no way it can’t beautifully, profoundly work on a person. By this point I had to have heard that first playing of My Bloody Valentine’s “Soon” that clearly divided my general listening life into a before and after, and while Jane’s’ show wasn’t quite as dramatic an experience, all I can say is that the version of “Three Days” they did, especially the extended instrumental break towards the end where Steven Perkins always went absolutely crazy on the drums without playing a dumb-ass solo, ended up leaving me faintly disappointed with the studio version as a result. Somehow it just wasn’t as transcendent as it clearly hoped it was, where the live version WAS.
They also did “Jane Says” too, of course. Another one of those beautiful crowd moments, where everyone clapped and sang-shouted “SHE CAN’T HIT!” at the appropriate points in the song.
So that was all quite something, this first show of 1991. Did I ever have no idea what I was in for for the rest of the year, though.