Live Review: Nine Inch Nails, NIN/JA Tour, Frank Irwin Center - Tuesday, May 12

Photo by Greg Schwartz

Judging from last night's performance in Austin, the conversation between Trent Reznor and Perry Farrell before Nine Inch Nails and Jane's Addiction teamed up for the NIN/JA tour probably went something like this:

Perry Farrell (in a helium-induced voice): Say Trent, how's life?

Trent Reznor (in a brooding, dark tone): Not bad. A little tired. I've been traveling the world with my live band the past year or so, doing the Lights In The Sky tour.

`Trent yawns with fatigue`

Farrell: Oh yeah. I remember what touring was like. Remember when both of our bands did the first Lollapalooza way back in 92 (CHECK)? That was awesome. Except for Jane's Addiction breaking up in a blizzard of drugs, booze and egos.

Reznor: Those were good times. But a lot has changed since then. I've cleaned up, I'm sober now, I recently gave a giant middle finger to the music industry by copying Radiohead's “pay what you can for my music” marketing idea, and I'm engaged to a hot Playboy Playmate. Life is pretty sweet. I think this is what mortals call “being happy.” In fact, I think I'm going to take some time off to actually allow myself some personal time. I've told people that I'm planning on retiring, sorta like Eminem and Jay-Z.

Farrell: Er, yeah. Well, things could be a little better for me. I haven't put out a record that matters in well over a decade and if it wasn't for the theme song of Entourage and the return of Lollopalooza, no one would know who I am.

Reznor: Geez, Perry. That sucks. Wait, now. Don't start cryingâ?¦

`Reznor offers Farrell a tissueâ?¦`

Reznor: Is there anything I can do to help you?

Farrell: Well, there is one thingâ?¦ I've been talking to the guys in Jane's and they say they'd be willing to do a tour. Even Stephen Perkins, our old bassist, who said he'd never have anything to do with us again because Dave Navarro and I are ego-maniacs. But, we're sort of hard up for the cash and Dave needs a new coffin to sleep in. We just need a band that will put fans in the seats to tour with us.

Reznor: Hmmmâ?¦I'm kinda beat from the last tour. I mean, we had a crazy light show, an artsy acoustic-orchestral breakdown during the show. Robin Finck, my guitarist, even played the pan-flute!

Farrell: You know I'm down with the pan-flute. But seriously, that's OK if you're tired. I was thinking all you have to do is play a so-so opening set and we'll take care of the rest. Your fans will be happy enough and might stick around to check us out.

Reznor: Hmmmâ?¦I suppose I can do one last go around before I settle down. Let's do it.

Photo by Greg Schwartz

That brings us to the cheekily named NIN/JA tour that hit the Frank Irwin Center in Austin on Tuesday night. While Nine Inch Nails fans would forgive the band for resting after the extensive (and awesome) Lights In The Sky world tour that came to San Antonio last October, Jane's Addiction needed this run of shows badly — the first in 17 years as the original lineup - to re-establish its name as a influential force in alternative music.

I will leave fellow Current writer Greg Schwartz to tell you about the Jane's performance (hint: not too shabby). As for Trent and company, they were as tight as ever despite of opening band status, leaving much of the arty posturing and heavy technology of the previous tour behind for a harder, leaner set.

Nine Inch Nails high-water mark The Downward Spiral figured heavily into the setlist with “I Do Not Want This,” “Heresy,” “The Becoming,” “Hey Pig” getting fierce makeovers. Diehards were treated to several songs not normally played live, such as “The Fragile” from the double-album of the same name, “Gave Up,” from the Broken EP and recently released via the NIN website, “Not So Pretty Now”.

No doubt, this was NIN stripped down raw, with a smaller stage, a lot less gear, but a lot more guitar power. The best numbers were the straight-ahead rockers, on which Reznor sounded fantastic, his vocals pinpoint throughout the 90-minute set.

Photo by Greg Schwartz

There were similarities to the previous NIN tour with a few slow-jam breakdowns featuring multiple instruments. While this created atmosphere with the corresponding visual spectacular during the Lights In The Sky spectacle, the stripped down lighting rig for the NIN/JA tour failed to create the same ambiance, testing the crowd's collective patience and leaving everyone anxious for something more aggressive. Blame it on his impending marriage to musician/model Mariqueen Maandig, but the days of Reznor seething anger and rage might be over, leading him to the more expressive, down-tempo side evident on the sprawling instrumental album Ghosts I-IV.

SIDE NOTE: One of the coolest things all night was watching the sign-language interpreters working extra-hard to communicate the show to a section of hearing-impaired individuals. There were two, maybe three women who would take turns on songs, interpreting lyrics for the entire show. They were into it too, dancing along to each piece while they signed, looking like improvisational dancers. They even had their own spotlight. It must be awkward to say “I wanna f*** you like an animal” in sign language.

The show ended with the killer trifecta of Joy Division's “Dead Souls” (covered by NIN for The Crow soundtrack), the still great “Head Like A Hole” from the 1989 release Pretty Hate Machine, and the latest radio hit “Hand That Feeds”. The only disappointment, expressed by the goth kid who called Reznor's mother a douche, came after the show when the band choose not to play an encore.

Photo by Greg Schwartz

It remains to be seen why Nine Inch Nails was opening for a band that hasn't been relevant in years — regardless of how much Jane's Addiction redeemed themselves on Tuesday night. It was obvious most people in attendance were there for Reznor's project, with the dark clothes, midnight nail polish and eyeliner out in full force, gender be damned. One thing Nine Inch Nails has always been is mysterious, a tone set throughout a catalogue dating two decades. The fact this might be the last time Nine Inch Nails plays live for some time left fans scratching their heads.

If this was truly the final tour Reznor has alluded to in the press and through his website, wouldn't he want to go out on top instead of playing second fiddle to a band whose only claim to fame in the new millennium is the theme song to a middling TV show? With the NIN/JA tour, fans were left with a bittersweet aftertaste following what should have been one last hurrah; a glorious black celebration of alt-rock's prince of gloom.


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