Live Review: Nine Inch Nails and Jane’s Addiction at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, May 20, 2009

If you live in Los Angeles and wanted to see the start of Nine Inch Nails’ set at 7:45 PM Wednesday night in Irvine, you would have had to start driving south around 3:30 PM – and not simply to avoid the legendary SoCal traffic on the 405 freeway.

NIN_JA May 20th, 2009

By 7:00 PM, traffic was backed up for over two miles on the 405 at the off-ramp for Verizon Wireless Amphitheater.  Though the concert was effectively sold out in advance, telegraphing the fact that over 16,000 people would be in attendance, no traffic control personnel or devices were utilized to maintain vehicle flow from the highway to the venue.  Instead, it was literally every driver for himself, jockeying for position to get off the highway into the single turn lane that leads to the amphitheater, which was regulated by a normal traffic signal.

Meanwhile, at UCLA, a triumvirate of Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino, Frontline Management kingpin/Ticketmaster CEO Irving Azoff and Creative Artists Agency music department head Rob Light spent the evening addressing the live music industry as part of the university’s “Music Business Now” extension class.  At one point Rapino noted that he was directing his employees to “stop kissing the artist’s ass and start kissing the fan’s ass.”

Apparently, he didn’t mean any time soon, for back at the amphitheater, traffic combusted anew as the parking staff vainly tried to get a grip on the deluge of vehicles entering the venue’s lots.  Parking attendant after parking attendant waved cars toward dead ends where no parking spaces existed, causing further casualties as drivers had to u-turn against traffic and go back the way they came.  When it eventually dawned on parking personnel that no more spots were available, they simply told drivers with a shrug to “fill in wherever [they could], along the sides if [they had] to.”

Getting into Verizon’s parking lot was only half the battle, however.  For those who needed to claim their tickets from the box office, another 20-30 minutes of lines awaited.  While there were three lines available for general will-call and only one line for Jane’s Addiction dot com presale purchases, not a single member of venue staff was on hand to help patrons find the right line, nor were their any barricades or stanchions to help separate them.

The result was a teaming mass of humanity shuffling against each other, hopping lines and waiting only to find out they were in the wrong place.  Muttered threats of violence and revenge dominated the mob as they realized they paid good money to stand outside the venue while half of NIN’s set disappeared on the cool evening air.

That in itself was a problem, as advertising for the event clearly listed NIN first, then Jane’s Addiction, which by logic suggested that Jane’s Addiction would play first and NIN would close the show, in the tradition of every concert bill in the history of time (hence the phrase “headliner”).  To that end, panicked Nails fans scurried to the venue gates only to be confronted by yet more long lines, this time in the form of security, before they were allowed to begin the long trek from the gates to the amphitheater proper.

Was the ordeal worth it?

It’s hard to find fault with any NIN show as Trent Reznor has historically made a habit out of delivering the goods whenever he performs.  On this occasion, he teased the audience by letting them know his set would not be hit-filled, and then delved into his other habit, which is self-indulgence.  No foul there for any but the most casual NIN fans, as Reznor has made a career out of being difficult to like.

If there were any fault to be found, it would be that as energetic and tight as NIN was on this night (or any other) the affair smacked of being premeditated, from stage moves and knocking over of gear right down to Reznor’s hurling his guitar at set’s end (which, thankfully for late-comers, very much included hits in the form of “The Day The World Went Away” and “Head Like A Hole”).

Jane’s Addiction’s set, on the other hand, started with technical difficulties and rarely got any better.  After a film clip mis-fired at the start of their show, they proceeded to limp through a thoroughly undynamic “Three Days.”  What should have been an epic return to the big stage for all four original band members after playing a series of secret shows in clubs around L.A. in recent months was instead marred by hoarse and off-key vocals from singer Perry Farrell and an absence of frenetic fire in general.

Though Farrell in a live setting has always been more of a master of ceremonies than a vocalist, on this night, he seemed particularly off.  And though one of the most formidable rhythm sections in alternative rock history (drummer Stephen Perkins and bassist Eric Avery) was on stage, the show never really gained steam.  While glib songs such as “Had A Dad” and “Been Caught Stealing” provided some momentum, sweeping numbers like  “Then She Did,” “Nothing’s Shocking” and the aforementioned “Three Days” were particularly lacking.  For his part, media personality/guitarist Dave Navarro delivered guitar licks which frequently came across as dated; more startling was the uncanny resemblance his face has come to bear to that of the mask from the film V For Vendetta.

Overall, a once dangerous and inspiring band did little to secure contemporary relevance for themselves.  When Farrell commented during the set that a little technical difficulty couldn’t contain them, he was right – the band did a fine job of containing themselves.

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