If you’re anything close to my age (30), there’s a small collection of bands that have been a part of all our lives for a good number of years. You’ve probably spent over half of your life listening to some of them, even the ones that you weren’t necessarily all that fond of to begin with. These bands, over time, become a part of the lexicon of your days, the familiar Old Faithfuls of your record collection. When you got bored with the new or became tired of the classics, they were there, dependable. Listening to them, whether as a snippet of a chorus heard on modern rock radio or a voluntary listen at home, can bring back a flood of memories of bygone days, blurry snapshots of younger years. And it couldn’t possibly get much more nostalgic (or, well, awesome) than the Nine Inch Nails/Jane’s Addiction NIN/JA farewell tour, which stopped in the wilds of Maryland at Merriweather Post Pavilion.
When Trent Reznor announced (in his very fan-friendly way) the indefinite hiatus on NIN tours, it brought a tear to my eye. For my money, there are few bands around that can touch the intricacies, the intense spectacle, and the sheer performance value offered at a Nine Inch Nails show. Admittedly, I was slow (a mild understatement) to see the appeal of the formerly constantly black-clad and gloomy Reznor (my obsession with Britpop during my formative years being well-documented), but thanks to some jaw-droppingly spectacular live shows and a couple of the newer records, I’ve seen myself turn into quite an NIN fangirl. So naturally, then, the announcement of one last Nine Inch Nails tour was huge (another mild understatement). Throw in the promise of fellow ’90s alternative mainstays Jane’s Addiction (and, I can’t lie, the promise of a shirtless Dave Navarro), and I was sold. Tickets were procured, preparations made (including a homemade cocktail I dubbed “The Ninja”). It seemed as though June 9th would never come.
When NIN/JA Day finally arrived, we jaunted up to Columbia, giggling like teenagers (the not-so-unexpected side effect of sheer giddiness, and those homemade cocktails). The glorious, sun-dappled (though ridiculously muggy) day gave way to the billowing thunderheads of a late afternoon storm, making a very atmospheric backdrop for the bon voyage party of two heavyweights. It’s as if Mother Nature wanted to see to it that the bands went out with a bang – though there were no worries there.
The farewell began with former Rage Against the Machine axeman Tom Morello’s newest band, Street Sweeper Social Club. I found them notable more for their matching epaulette-laden military jackets and huge banner than their actual tunes, though they did provide a fair introduction to the proceedings. It was loud, it was heavy, and you could dance to some of it. We already knew that Morello knows how to play guitar better than about 99% of the population, but the magic he found with Rage hasn’t been replicated. The best thing about SSSC, though, was that they sounded nothing like Audioslave.
After Morello and Co. left the stage, a certain energy began to fill the air. The thousands of us in the stands and the thousands more swathed in ponchos on the lawn all seemed to be buzzing at once. It was impatience, expectance, and exhilaration all pouring forth at the same time. After what seemed an interminable, molasses-like span of time, the lights finally went down, the crowd roared, and out strolled Nine Inch Nails for one final turn on the Merriweather stage. Trent Reznor being ever the chameleon, his approach to the final tour was in stark contrast with the last time I saw them, last November in Charlottesville. That show featured highly elaborate stage and lighting configurations, with each note of each song carefully planned with sensational effects for maximum impact. The NIN/JA tour was far less dramatic, though no less atmospheric. With the ever-approaching nightfall above, the dark lighting scheme of hazy golden browns and dark purples with strategically placed spotlights seemed somber and moody, perfect tones for a goodbye. The gloom was interspersed by fiery red lights and electric blues, but the fancy projections and mesh boxes were a thing of the past.
NIN was in rare form, though it’s pretty hard to imagine this band having an off night. They began with “999,999” and set the tone immediately. It was to be nothing but the best. The 19-song set was full of favorites, a veritable retrospective of NIN’s lengthy and noteworthy career. Two standouts were “March of the Pigs” and “Echoplex”, an old and a new favorite, the former featuring one hell of an audience singalong (though there were many), and the latter having been tweaked so that Robin Finck’s saucy guitar riff was somehow even dirtier. All four band members were in fine fettle, with Reznor, as always, taking the lead. Alternating between vocals, guitar, keyboards, and fair amounts of thrashing around with boundless energy, the 44-year-old continues to put dudes half his age to shame. And hot damn, is he sexy. Every song was great, but the final four nearly induced my brain to melt: “Dead Souls” (the Joy Division cover that I never in a million years would have expected to see live), “The Hand That Feeds”, “Head Like a Hole”, and “Hurt”. The crowd singing along to “Head Like a Hole” and “Hurt” was quite possibly the loudest I’ve ever heard at a concert. And the finale, “Hurt”, was the best I’ve ever seen it, with extra poignance because of the finality of the gig. Despite the lack of songs like “Closer” or “Mr. Self-Destruct”, it was an amazing set, nearly perfect, but incredibly bittersweet. If we had to say adieu to NIN, this was the way to do it.
After the set that I didn’t want to end, it was time to take a breather before Jane’s Addiction closed the show. I’d never been much of a Jane’s fan, probably thanks to years of inherent resistance to the song “Jane Says”, which I couldn’t stand back in the day. But now I stand before you, completely converted. All it took was 14 songs to turn me into a believer. Ageless wonder Perry Farrell (50) shimmied and shook his ass across the stage, prancing around in his tight, befeathered ensemble like a preening, over-sexed peacock. Farrell is truly a consummate performer, witty and engaging, with the added charm of being overtly raunchy. Swigging from a bottle of wine, Farrell wiggled his hips and alerted us to the fact that we were making him hard. It wasn’t just the ostentatious Perry that I found so impressive. It was the entire band. They sounded legendary. After falling in love with songs like “Ocean Size” and “Mountain Song”, I found myself under Jane’s spell. I even found their last song, “Jane Says”, fantastic. And that truly is impressive, given how many years I’ve disliked it. The lighting was more outrageous for JA, as you might guess. Lots of pinks and greens and bright purple, to match the over-the-top whirlwind that is Farrell. They sure shocked the hell out of me with how much they could rock. Maybe not quite as hard as they once could, but they still know what they’re doing. And Pied Piper Perry will forever know how to keep the audience in the palm of his hand.
NIN/JA was probably the (non-festival) concert of the year for me. It would take some kinda ferociousness to top what happened up there in Maryland. There are so few bands that could withstand the test of time the way these two bands have. I mean, Nine Inch Nails and Jane’s Addiction would have been a hot ticket back in 1994, but it takes something special to keep the masses enamored for as long as they have. They always have great musicians around them, but both bands will always be known and noted for their frontmen; NIN with the awesome force that is Trent Reznor, and Jane’s with Perry Farrell, their brother from another time and place. I just hope they don’t stay in rock & roll retirement for too long. After all, someone’s gotta show the kids how it’s done.The above footage is not