Nine Inch Nails, Jane's Addiction keep rebelling

Posted: June 08, 2009

Rebellion was a hot commodity at the Susquehanna Bank Center on Friday night, as Jane's Addiction and Nine Inch Nails raged against enemies real and imagined.

In the midst of its second reunion, Jane's Addiction has lost whatever frail sense of purpose once held it together. Prancing around a stage adorned with Italianate curlicues, singer Perry Farrell came off as a self-satisfied pied piper, canary feathers poking out of the sides of his smirking mouth.

Drawing its set almost entirely from the early '90s albums Nothing's Shocking and Ritual de lo Habitual (and avoiding the product of its first reunion, Strays of 2003), the band sashayed lazily through quasi-alternative hits like "Been Caught Stealing," a pro-shoplifting anthem that packages adolescent entitlement as iconoclasm. Farrell's voice was slathered in thick delay, with an onstage mixer that swallowed the song's tenuous melody and reduced it to a sour soup.

Trent Reznor, by contrast, was all business. Playing long and with far more conviction than the ostensible headliner, the Nine Inch Nails singer and mastermind took the stage in jeans and a black T-shirt strained by his massive biceps. Evidently he's been working out his angst in the weight room as well as the studio.

As recorded, Reznor's music is clattering and claustrophobic, but on stage he stripped it down to its skeleton, his three-piece band overdriving massive riffs that pierced the dry-ice smoke. Songs like "March of the Pigs" shared superficialities with Jane's Addiction's hedonist antiauthoritarianism, but Reznor's anger was more cauterizing, his targets more substantial. The chorus of "Heresy" induced a full arena to shout along with him: "God is dead and no one cares. If there is a hell, I'll see you there."

Muddling teenage pique and political protest have been a mainstay of Tom Morello's career. As the guitarist in Rage Against the Machine, and now in opener Street Sweeper Social Club, his songs proffer generic rants that could as easily be directed against stern parents as repressive regimes. The new band, at least, has a far more incisive voice at its core: The Coup's rapper Boots Riley, who galvanized early arrivals with "Fight! Smash! Win!" and a cover of M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes." But the three-piece band's metal crunch was geared more toward head-banging than machine-smashing, its rhythms too flat to provoke real unrest.

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