May 10, 2009
Story and photos by
Movement Senior Correspondent
The NINJA tour is an amazing showcase for some of the sounds and ideas born in underground culture over 20 years ago. The fact that it goes over so well today stands as proof positive that these "cult" bands of yesteryear indeed altered popular culture for the better. However (and this isn't a bad thing), despite their trailblazing work, the structure of the evening wound up following that of a traditional three-act play, complete with a rise, fall, and resolution. More specifically, the Street Sweeper Social Club got the party started, Nine Inch Nails delivered a devastating set steeped in a sense of finality, and finally -perhaps even miraculously- Jane's Addiction rose Phoenix-like from the ashes to restore the sense of adventure and hope that got this whole thing started in the first place.
With matching pseudo-military jackets and power-fighting anthems like “Fight! Smash! Win!,” Street Sweeper Social Club came off as an incendiary cross between the International Noise Conspiracy and Public Enemy. The band is centered around guitarist Tom “The Nightwatchman” Morello, guitarist for Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave, and Boots Riley, rapper from the Coup and founder of the Mau Mau Rhythm Collective. Fans of Rage and/or the Coup definitely caught glimmers of each band’s appeal courtesy of Morello’s innovative guitar work and Riley’s politically-fused vocals. To be fair, Morello is far more than just an exquisite noisemaker, and with a guitar bearing the slogan “Arm the Homeless,” he too took to the microphone in between songs to encourage the audience to be a part of their 3 Point Plan, which is to “Feed the poor, Fight the power, and ROCK THE FUCK OUT!” He also offered up some texting info for the audience to become more involved with their food drive. While the vast majority of the audience was there to see either Nine Inch Nails or Jane’s Addiction, SSSC wound up being the bona-fide surprise of the evening. Their debut album won’t be out for a few more months, but they held their own against the big boys. If anything, since this was widely regarded as NIN’s final tour and Jane’s Addiction’s show is based on their reunion, Street Sweeper Social Club was the only band on the bill with any plans for the immediate future. Their set was a quick thirty minutes, but folks were impressed and got the feeling they would be hearing more from them in the future.
Calling it the NINJA tour is a pretty awesome incorporation of the two other bands’ names, but the NIN portion of the show was also known amongst fans as the “Wave Goodbye” tour. Hell, if it’s on a $35 shirt on sale in the foodstuffs area, it’s a pretty official title. While it would be unreasonable to assume we won’t be hearing from Trent Reznor again -it’s obvious the guy loves to create- he seems completely comfortable with ending an era of doing business as usual. The record-release-promote cycle is assuredly a thing of the past for him, and with NIN’s set, Reznor celebrates the fact that he isn’t out there to promote a specific product. Far from the standard “hits-and-the-new-stuff” collection most bands are obliged to perform, Reznor made a point of mentioning (and proving) that this tour was about the band doing whatever they felt like. The result was a collection of crowd-pleasers, die-hard fan-pleasers, rarities and personal band favorites, even going as far as to bring out Saul Williams for a performance of the song “Banged and Blown Through” off of his Reznor-produced album The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust! . Far from a victory lap, NIN is spending this tour providing an overview of a complex career.
As for the performance itself, Reznor and crew are going out at the top of their game. The light show and stage setup has been toned down a little, the reasoning is that they can’t get locked in to anything elaborate with a setlist they intend on changing every night of the tour. As for what they are working with, it’s still leaps and bounds ahead of most bands, and warnings of “intense lighting” were posted at each entrance. Even when they’re holding back a little, Nine Inch Nails are still legally obliged to offer a warning. The changing setlist was also cause for a lax attitude on cameras and recording gear, with the understanding that fans would be able catch a taste of what happens elsewhere on the tour beyond the particular show they were able to attend. Again, this too came with a warning, (posted by Reznor on the band’s website) - bring what you want, but do so with the understanding that it *may* get broken. Sure enough, the crowd was filled with budding guerrilla documentarians with iPhones and digicams, but halfway through the show the majority of them were far more interested in actually experiencing the show than capturing it. The novelty of taking photos of a band kicking ass was simply no match for the actual ass-kicking at hand.
Based on his appearance, demeanor and a brief bit of banter toward the end of his set, Reznor seems to have literally exorcised AND exercised away his demons. The guy is in astounding shape physically, and his band’s sound reflects this muscularity and discipline. As such, Reznor finds himself at the end of a long-fought road, free from any label restrictions, healthy, engaged, and well….very content. There was a point while singing “Something I Can Never Have,” where he looked out at the sea of fans singing along and he just couldn’t help but smile. There‘s no doubt the song has quite a bit of personal pain invested in it, but by this point it‘s also regarded as an early career highlight, and no matter how much he gave of himself, he was getting it back tenfold from a crowd that adored him. He seems to have come full circle, and he’s either come to peace with, or conquered, many of the issues that fueled Nine Inch Nails.
When he took a moment to address the crowd with talk of “going away for a while, maybe forever” he had to be aware of it’s resemblance to David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust announcement of his “last show ever.” However, when the crowd responded with the prerequisite “NOOOOOOO!!!” Reznor actually shrugged off the drama of it, like it really wasn’t that big of a deal, he’s just beyond playing the corporate game. He told folks interested in making music that nowadays “you don’t have to do it like this” and just before he aired what was poised to be an anti-label laundry list, he cut himself short mid-sentence, smiled, and shook his head in a manner that suggested there was really no point in complaining about something from which he is now happily removed. Sure, he ended the show with a blistering rendition of “Head Like a Hole” thereby following the showbiz notion of “giving the people what they want,” but ultimately, Trent Reznor has found himself at a well-deserved point in his career where his is free to do absolutely whatever he wants.
NIN setlist: 1,000,000/Wish/Heresy/March Of The Pigs/Something I Can Never Have/Metal/The Becoming/Head Down/Mr. Self Destruct/Reptile/The Big Come Down/Gave Up/Gone, Still/Survivalism (w/ Saul Williams)/Banged And Blown Through (w/ Saul Williams)/Home/Physical (You're So)/Down In It/The Hand That Feeds/Head Like A Hole
About 20 minutes after NIN was finished, the collective age of Lakewood seemed to have gone up about 10 years. A few folks who voiced displeasure online over NIN’s choice to go on before Jane’s Addiction actually did follow up on their threats of leaving prior to Jane’s set. Not exactly the mass exodus threatened in some heated exchanges in the NIN.com forum, but the crowd did thin out slightly. To be fair, some of this may also be a matter of the overall mood of the place being altered after NIN delivered over 90 minutes of a set guaranteed to exhaust anyone’s sense of aggression. Spent of tension, the mood became one of excitement for the appearance of Jane’s Addiction with their original lineup.
A curtain was lowered in front of the stage about 10 minutes prior to Jane’s set, and this too seemed to heighten the sense of mystery and suspense. After 17 years of sporadic (and incomplete) sightings, the band that brought underground art rock from the back streets of Los Angeles into the homes of suburbia via the now-classic albums Nothing’s Shocking and Ritual de lo Habitual was about to take the stage and work their culture-shifting magic.
Jane’s show began with a film clip from the 1997 movie The River’s Wild projected onto the curtain. In the scene, a young boy chats with a man wearing a Lollapolooza cap. The scene humorously acknowledges the band’s impact (the man in the cap is Kevin Bacon- Jane’s Addiction is ONE DEGREE from Kevin Bacon!) as the man recalls the band as “great,” and the boy, perhaps speaking for a generation, intones a desire about to become a reality:
"Boy, I wish I got to see Jane's Addiction before they broke up.”
The comment brings down the house, and Perry Farrell’s spoken word intro from the band’s epic “Three Days” fills the arena. The bassline… that bassline played by the bass player begins, and there they are- Jane’s Addiction.
A little more than 25 years have passed since JA first performed, but their sound has remained intact. Some wear and tear on Farrell’s voice now places the songs in a lower key, but otherwise, their playing ability has not diminished. More importantly, their ability to play together hasn’t suffered at all. It seems like absence has indeed made the heart grow fonder, and throughout the show there were moments of interplay between the members that bordered on gleeful. The manic physicality and banshee-wails that drove performances in the early nineties have been replaced with a more relaxed tone and groove, but this works for the band for several reasons. Competing with Nine Inch Nails’ precision and force would be a losing proposition at this point, so the band wisely sidesteps that confrontation with a looser, more organic approach. Compared to their early days, it’s the difference between cocky and cocksure, and the band’s performance is created with the audience, not simply aimed at them. Farrell’s playful banter incorporated local spots around Atlanta, various bits of Georgian lore, the full moon, and the evening’s warm weather. While the songs themselves have become standards over the years, it all came together to create the feeling of a one-of-a-kind celebration of this specific evening. NIN blew people away, no doubt about it, but Jane’s Addiction, and in particular Perry’s role as a frontman, put on a show that brought the crowd together with a sense of community that goes back over a dozen years.
They ended their show with “Jane Says,” a song about a roommate that Perry and Eric had back in the 80’s. With two acoustic guitars, a small percussion set including steel drums, and the only prerecorded music of their set- a minimal drum loop, the band led several thousand people through a sing-along on a tune originally preformed in their living room. It’s been years since Jane has indeed kicked her habit, but Jane’s Addiction still has that spark that can make listening to music a special experience.
Jane's Addiction setlist: Three Days/Whores/Ain't No Right/Pigs In Zen/Then She Did.../Mountain Song/Been Caught Stealing/Ted, Just Admit It.../Had A Dad/Ocean Size/Summertime Rolls/Stop!/Jane Says