Everyone, check your copies of Ritual de lo Habitual: Somewhere, there’s a Dorian Gray-esque portrait of Jane’s Addiction that shows the band members losing their hair and growing paunches. Onstage Friday night in West Palm Beach at the first night of the NIN/JA tour — Jane’s reunion, Nine Inch Nails’ swan song — the four band members looked a lot like their 1990 selves. Give or take a couple clumsy spills across the Cruzan Amphitheatre stage (maybe those knees don’t work quite like they used to, or maybe it was the bottle of wine he was swigging), singer Perry Farrell was a preening, prancing, silly satyr. And Dave Navarro — ah, muscled, goateed, chain-smoking, bare-chested, alt-rock guitar icon, thy physique is perfection, and your hammer of the tattooed love god riffs are pretty good too.
Including original drummer Stephen Perkins (rocking a kilt) and secret-weapon bassist Eric Avery (keeping Farrell’s and Navarro’s egos tethered to the bottom), Jane’s came onstage for their first tour in 17 years full of themselves. First there was a short movie that touted the importance of the band’s return to children who never got to see them live and that of course featured JA’s habitual muse: pert-breasted pinups. Then there was Perry doing his Fiddler on the Roof court-jester hip dance, Navarro performing long manic love to not one but two guitars, Perkins soloing with not one but two bass drums, Farrell waving that bottle around like a merry prankster — and that was just the first song, epic opener “Three Days.”
The moon was full and Farrell was on home turf, with old high school chums in the audience. Before the encore, he dedicated the show to a friend who had passed. Then the band played a lovely, acoustic “Jane Says,” with Perkins on steel drums and the audience of course singing along. Interacting little during the previous 70 minutes, the players came together at the end, arms slung across shoulders, the demons that drove them apart at least temporarily quelled.
That unplugged moment was the rare instance when Jane’s Addiction hasn’t pursued the maxim more is more. Even before the dawn of the Nirvana era, they defined alt-rock as progressive music rather than punk. With a darker predilection for pomp, Nine Inch Nails was right there alongside them — literally, sharing the stage at the first, historic Lollapalooza tour in 1991. That festival broke Jane’s up. Unable to split with himself, Trent Reznor has stuck out the rise and fall of alternative — until now. “It’s been a good run,” the Nails head said, sounding pretty banal for the erstwhile dark sex god of industrial thrash. “Thank you for your support over the years.”
Taking the stage before Jane’s, while it was still light outside, NIN was at a distinct disadvantage — Reznor does not play summer feel-good hits. He and his three bandmates got straight to their business of calling the world a dark hole full of pathetic humans. Sorry to wax Nietzschean here, but NIN is Apollonian in its pursuit of order, compared to Jane’s Dionysian zest for excess. It’s always been a bit hard to take lyrics like “If there is a hell I’ll see you there” seriously, but it was even harder with a beach ball bouncing around the audience’s heads.
NIN sounded scary-great on “Head Like a Hole,” the first song on their first LP, and on a song that Reznor announced they had never played before, a cover of David Bowie’s “I’m Afraid of Americans.” But the material from in between wore thin. Looking more like a meathead Tom Cruise than Alan Rickman’s black-magic Severus Snape, Reznor has not sipped from Jane’s fountain of youth. But there’s no doubt that his raw power has long spoken to the disturbed souls of goth youth, and when NIN didn’t come back for even one encore, the booing audience clearly felt like something important had been lost. Reznor Tweeted that the PA got shut off, giving him a “temper tantrum.”
The NIN/JA tour — which also features Tom Morello’s Rage-esque new band, Street Sweeper Social Club, which debuted in New York a few days before the Florida show — doesn’t mean that alt rock has hit the oldies circuit. It’s more like catching Genesis and Yes in, say 1985, when their best days were behind them, but you just wanted to say one more farewell. “Wave Goodbye” Reznor has dubbed this tour. Friday night, it ended a little sooner than he wanted.
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