Jane’s Addiction, Nine Inch Nails, Street Sweeper Social Club: Cricket Pavillion, Phoenix, AZ 5/15/09

After the Nirvana revolution, you couldn’t even get two of those 80’s hair bands on a stage together in any house bigger than 5,000 peeps. Well if you do the decade math, some of those same bands that rocked big ampitheaters in the 90’s are doing it again today (with the help of $20 lawn tickets).   The one thing is, that one of these bands (NIN) sounded mighty relevant while the other (Jane’s Addiction) appeared to be going through the motions on this Phoenix date of the cleverly coined NIN/JA tour.

Before “retro Lollapalooza”  the new project from Tom Morello and Boots Riley – Street Sweeper Social Club – got thing moving.  Although the comparisons to Rage Against the Machine are unmistakable, Street Sweeper is a hard edged creative push for Morello, who since the split of Audioslave,  has let his machine gun guitar riffs hibernate while experimenting with mellow folk as The Watchman.  Riley, front-man from the politically ramped hip hop act The Coup, appeared to be a less controversial shadow of Zach De La Rocha, but brought his own leadership as a rapper/rock and roll front-man, busting out revolutionary anthems, “Fight! Smash! Win!” and “100 Little Curses.”  

Stanton Moore, who appears on drums on the debut album due out June 16th, was missed with his steadfast funky beats, but  Morello took over the rhythmic acrobatics by playing guitar behind his head and plugging riffs with his teeth.   Road-testing material to a daylight ampitheater  isn’t exactly prime time, but Street Sweeper hit hard on the straight-forward rock anthem “The Oath” and stood  proud on the class warfare anthem “Clap for the Killers.”  The meeting of rock and rap was still almost a taboo experiment back when Rage Against the Machine was just kicking off in ’92, but 15 years later, Street Sweeper Social Club kicked some ass as Morello continues to generate sounds you never heard a guitar make before.

Remaining relevant always imposes a challenge to any artist whether it be U2 or MGMT,  but Nine Inch Nails threw down hard and proved they should have been closing the show instead of Jane’s Addiction.  Trent Reznor was in captain mode as he dusted off a series of NIN classics that alluded the term “tired.”  Always keen to shape shifting his live lineup, Reznor was joined onstage by Robin Finck (guitars, synthesizers), Justin Medal-Johnson (bass, guitars/synthesizers) and Illan Rubin (drums). 

Highly under-rated as a lyricist and poet, Reznor’s words often get lost in his industrial symphonics, but with a keen sound mix, the NIN mastermind’s voice held his notes triumphantly.  The energy along with smoke, strobe lights and an in your face poignancy held as NIN ravaged through classics: “Heresy,” “March Of The Pigs, “Reptile,” “Down In A Hole,” “Suck” and “Wish.” Reznor slowed things down with a cover of Saul Williams’ “Banged And Blown Through” but it was the cover of Joy Division’s “Dead Souls” that hit a hard chord as the song’s eerie mystique personified the NIN mission.  The crowd sing-along “Hurt,” probably the greatest last track on an album, was a mighty climax to a set that surprised everyone in the audience as being powerful, relevant and tight.

In the summer of 1992, Metallica and Guns N Roses played a co-headlining tour that had Guns N’ Roses playing last, which following a blistering performance by Metallica had many fans asking –“how do you top that?”  This evening a reformed Jane’s Addiction failed to capture the energy that NIN threw down, coming off as a “reunion band” playing all the greatest hits.  It also didn’t help Jane’s cause that a good portion of the crowd filtered out following NIN.

In their first tour since 1991 with original member Eric Avery on bass, Jane’s Addiction launched into “Three Days” as Avery’s grumbling spacious bass lines, which provide the foundation for many of the band’s most memorable songs including “Mountain Song” and “Summertime Rolls” brought back good memories.  Although hits “Been Caught Stealing” and “Stop” suffered from staleness it was many of the Nothings Shocking compositions that held their time well.

Perhaps, it was the shirtless antics of Perry Farrell and Dave Navarro who seemed more concerned with flaunting their sexuality that made this round of Jane’s Addiction more a vanity fair than a rock show.   But despite Navarro spinning around in  tight pants and Farrell prancing around as a pixie/banshee, Avery and drummer Stephen Perkins provided a thunderous rhythm section.  Farrell, vocally sounding himself at 50, still graces the recognizable pipes that had made him one of alternative rock’s most recognizable figures.

Prior to the encore of “Jane Says,” Farrell brought up his well known subject of partying and  then mentioned that the very first Lollapalooza concert was played in the valley of the sun (Compton Terrace 1991) and asked the crowd – “who was there?” Surprisingly a good portion of the crowd had seen Jane’s Addiction on their original farewell tour, but it’s probably no question as to which performance was better, But with a tour package like this three-biller, things haven’t gotten too bad.

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