NIN|JA w/ Street Sweeper Social Club – [Live]

Friday, 29 May 2009

There seemed to be several different motivations fueling the show on Friday night at Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, CA. At times, it felt like a bona-fide, big-talent rock show and yet my fear was that the tour was simply conceived so that the creative moniker “NIN|JA” could be pressed into use. For Street Sweeper Social Club, thankfully abbreviated to “SSSC” emblazoned on their matching black and red jackets, the day was about a new band of veterans proving themselves under a new, albeit dreadful, name. Nine Inch Nails, having recently announced that this would be their final tour for the foreseeable future, was carefully crafting their “Wave Goodbye,” and was returning to a pared-down version reminiscent of their earlier days. And the “headliner,” Jane’s Addiction, was together for the first time since the early 90s to prove they still had the chops to justify a top billing.

Beginning the evening, Street Sweeper Social Club, the fresh project from Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and Boots Riley from Oakland’s hip-hop act The Coup, brought their new sound to the stage. Like a street-smart combination of the best influences from Rage and Riley’s rhyming, politically-amped vocal stylings, SSSC ripped through songs that sounded as if they were written to be rock anthems. “Fight! Smash! Win!,” “100 Little Curses” and “Somewhere in the World It’s Midnight” allowed Morello ample opportunity to show off trademark Rage machine-gun style staccato guitar riffs, some Eddie Van Halen hammer-ons and even artful, on-the-fly detuning techniques and a few licks played with his teeth…but did I really hear square-dance calling at the end of the set?

Oddly occupying the middle slot for the evening, Trent Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails consisted of Robin Finck on guitars, bassist Justin Meldal-Johnson and relative newcomer Illan Rubin on duty behind the drums. Dispensing with last year’s ambitious high-concept and technologically elaborate production filled with all of the best toys a huge-budget tour can provide, The NIN|JA “Wave Goodbye 2009” tour brings NIN back full circle to embrace their intense, ARP-filtered sound in a very uncluttered form. Gone were the video projections, interactive proximity screens, walls of light and all of the equipment was securely bolted down, lest any “Self Destruct Tour” mayhem were to ensue. The very simplicity of it all gave the impression that this was an exercise in closure.

Another cue that this was no ordinary NIN show was the set list. Seemingly designed to satisfy the urges of the band instead of the masses, some notable crowd favorites were conspicuously absent with “Closer,” ”Sin” and “Only,” being the most obvious. Since the show began before sunset, I wasn’t really sure what to expect since “daylight” and “Nine Inch Nails” don’t typically have much to do with each other. There we some unpredicted gems like “Metal,” “Burn” and “The Way Out Is Through,” a moody, 28-word crescendo which has always been a personal favorite. I did, however, miss the material from Ghosts but, with the format of the show leaning away from the theatrical, it may have felt a little out of place.

With a short break, just long enough for a sizable crowd to head toward the gates for the night, Jane’s Addiction, with resident androgynous frontman Perry Farrell, began from behind a sheer curtain. As JA began their old-school set with “Three Days” and “Whores,” one of alternative rock’s most recognizable characters was again at home cavorting in front of a crowd. Having broken up after the inaugural 1991 Lollapalooza show, which was also the last tour Jane’s Addiction shared the bill with NIN, Farrell reunited with original members Stephen Perkins on drums, bassist Eric Avery and rock star™ Dave Navarro on guitar.

As Farrell writhed onstage, periodically joining Navarro for an impromptu pose-off, he asked the crowd “Do you like my corset?” Not many rock singers can pull that off, but somehow it still works for Farrell. Powered through their set by Avery and Perkins, JA continued with “Then She Did…,” “Been Caught Stealing” and “Mountain Song” before returning for an encore with “Stop” and “Jane Says.” Through the set, Navarro made his contributions look effortless, appearing as if he had done it all sometime before.

All things considered, the show was a success, at the very least, as a 90s flashback. Many elements worked and some even a little better than expected. The introduction of Street Sweeper Social Club, and the idea that the old JA formula can work even after nearly 20 years both made sense, as did the musical contrast between aggressive melancholy and unconventional free-spirited rock. With rumors of a Reznor-produced Jane’s album and a forthcoming debut album from SSSC, at least we will have something to listen to until the NIN reunion tour.


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Nine Inch Nails – The Slip –[Album]

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