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Live: Nine Inch Nails and Jane's Addiction at Irvine's Verizon Wireless Amphitheater

Jane's Addiction sounded like classic rock that had lost its edge; Nine Inch Nails were as sharp and relevant as ever.

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While tens of millions of television viewers watched Kris Allen and Adam Lambert battle for the title of American Idol on Wednesday night, a different kind of showdown was taking place at Irvine's Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, where Nine Inch Nails and Jane's Addiction -- two veterans of the late-'80s/early-'90s alternative-rock boom -- played to a packed house nostalgic for an era when guyliner wasn't quite ready for prime time.

Both acts on the so-called NIN/JA 2009 tour won huge cheers from the audience Wednesday -- not surprising, given Jane's Addiction's Los Angeles home base and the fact that Nine Inch Nails maestro Trent Reznor has said that this will be the band's final run of shows for the foreseeable future.

As on "American Idol," though, only one had anything interesting to say, and it wasn't the group with the headlining slot.

Since returning to active duty with 2005's "With Teeth," Nine Inch Nails has been on a creative hot streak, issuing a string of excellent albums (including last year's "The Slip") full of razor-sharp electro-industrial riffs and Reznor's sly anti-authoritarian invective.

At Verizon Wireless, the band began its 80-minute set before nightfall -- less than ideal circumstances for its beyond-dark message and its smoke-and-strobes stage show. "God is dead and no one cares," Reznor screamed early on, the nearby Irvine Spectrum Center's enormous Ferris wheel clearly visible in the distance behind him.

Yet if the timing wasn't right, no one told Reznor and his three bandmates, who powered through recent material and NIN oldies alike with undimmed enthusiasm. The frontman apologized for "not playing any hits tonight," but that wasn't really the case: "March of the Pigs" and "Mr. Self Destruct" (well known tracks from 1994's "The Downward Spiral") sat alongside "Echoplex" and "The Hand That Feeds," fresher cuts familiar to even casual KROQ-FM (106.7) listeners.

For a closer, the group reached back to "Head Like a Hole," the 20-year-old single that made Reznor a modern-rock star.

Somewhat surprisingly, that song sounded nothing like a relic Wednesday. That's in part because its death-disco groove and line-in-the-sand lyric ("I'd rather die than give you control") still feel true to Nine Inch Nails' current incarnation.

An outspoken critic of everything from President Bush's religious leanings to Chris Cornell’s recent collaboration with the hip-hop producer Timbaland, Reznor hasn't allowed fame and fortune to dilute his free-flowing vitriol.

But "Head Like a Hole" also worked because Reznor knows that vitality is a function of focus. Not unlike Lambert on the "Idol" stage, he enforced a sonic specificity on the music that kept it from washing out into retro-rock vagueness.

Wonderfully costumed as a 19th-century New Orleans pimp, Jane's Addiction singer Perry Farrell might've shared Lambert's sense of sartorial inspiration Wednesday. (Typically shirtless by the end of the band's first song, guitarist Dave Navarro appeared inspired solely by himself.)

Only a handful of dates into this tour, though, these four alt-culture trailblazers embodied an artistic mode that was pure Kris Allen: jammy, putatively laid back rock wholly lacking in the danger and unpredictability of yore.

Never a band with much use for the merits of composition, Jane's wasn't helped by the comparison with NIN, which made songs like "Three Days" and "Summertime Rolls" sound aimless and woefully undercooked.

Long stretches of the group's 85-minute set seemed to consist entirely of intros, solos and vamps.

During its original run, Jane's reclaimed those hoary classic-rock devices in a way that felt new, even subversive; the band cultivated a potent gang-of-outsiders vibe that appealed to misfits unwilling to sacrifice their love of Led Zeppelin just because jocks dug "Stairway to Heaven" too.

In Irvine, those classic-rock devices simply came across like classic rock, minus the thrill of cutting-edge camaraderie. Farrell has spoken in interviews about the personality conflicts Jane's has encountered while working on new material, and Wednesday he and his bandmates appeared to deal with those issues by keeping interaction to an absolute minimum.

Encoring with two of its most well-known songs, "Stop!" and "Jane Says," the band finally mustered some of its old chemistry. But by then the transformation was complete: These one-time American idols had become another group of idle Americans.

--Mikeal Wood

Photo: Jane's Addiction performs in Irvine. Credit: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

 
Comments () | Archives (4)

I'm afraid to comment or you'll think someone is reading your extremely idiotic review, but I just couldn't let it go unsaid...apparently you are one of the mindless drones who picked a camp in some invisible battle and decided the only thing happening at this show was NIN.

Too bad, as you must have gotten stuck in traffic and arrived late to the show and missed Street Sweeper Social Club (who were incredible) and I think you must have been a little contact high by the time Jane's was on. You missed the mark completely. Whatever.

The mere fact that the reviewer compared this concert to American Idol speaks volumes. NIN put on a good show, but they didn't do anything I haven't seen them do five times before. I'm a fan, but I think I'm done with them for a while. Jane's on the other hand, was one enjoyable musical adventure. I wasn't a JA fan before last night, but now I look forward to seeing them again. I truly felt like I was witnessing the JA that ruled the strip 20 years ago. Orange County Register got it right. LA Times got it wrong.

This is obviously your article, not mine. So with that said you write it how you want and say what you want. But I am really taken aback by all the American Idol references....because that is a TV show that has little or nothing to do with what I consider to be REAL MUSIC...where as the show last night was about just that REAL MUSIC and I feel you could have used your allotted space a bit more wisely by talking about things that actually matter to the people who were there or who wished they could have been (but did not instead stay in and watch American Idol.) I guess your readers must really love that pseudo karaoke crap show. Thanks.

As big of a fan I am, NIN really are not what they, or should I say Trent used to be.

I know i'm going to get a lot of replys back to how stupid I am, and I should die for saying this, but lets face it Janes Addiction stole the show. I think NIN should have called it quits for a few years right after the With Teeth tour.

When I saw NIN in the Hollywood Bowl in 2005, they were amazing. THE BEST! But after that tour ended they really should have taken a leave, for a few years and maybe resurfaced NOW.

Its sad, but Trent has always been able to see the future, and the truth is his future is not that bright in music anymore, but well he is getting married so maybe now the softer side of Trent will just take place.


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