Tuesday, March 20 , 2018, 5:25 pm | Light Rain Fog/Mist 55º


Paul Mann: Lollapalooza Lives

Jane's Addiction and Nine Inch Nails give the Santa Barbara Bowl a night of alt-rock history

Thursday was another historic night of live music at the Santa Barbara Bowl. Two of Alternative music’s biggest and most successful bands co-headlined a show, rooted in rock history. Their bond, anchored in their first appearance together at the original Lollapalooza music festival, dates back to 1991.

At a time when mainstream radio was dominated by hair bands like Guns N’ Roses and Van Halen, alternative rock was heard mostly on obscure college radio stations. Jane’s Addiction was one of the first of these “alt” bands to break into mainstream radio, mainly due to its masterful sound, reminiscent in tone and intensity to Led Zeppelin.

Just as fame and fortune began to explode, the fiercely independent band, called for a swansong, one last big concert, in its home base of Southern California. The first Lollapalooza, and the final curtain call for Jane’s Addiction, for nearly a generation, took place in August 1991. A product of Perry Farrell’s fertile imagination, the festival was modeled after similar European festivals. Unlike traditional American rock festivals up to that time, the Lollapalooza concept was to bring different types of alternative pop music together in a multistage party atmosphere, encouraging audience participation. The idea was so successful it has spawned an explosive growth in alternative music festivals across the country. From Bonnaroo to Coachella, the biggest and best of these owe their origins to Farrell’s masterful vision.

The first Lollapalooza boasted a lineup that included Jane’s Addiction, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Living Colour, Nine Inch Nails, Ice-T & Body Count, Butthole Surfers, Rollins Band. Although there were a lot of great performances that day, two are embedded in my mind to this day. Jane’s dreamlike, jam-infused marathon set, complete with naked dancing girls, was predictably captivating. But the most memorable moment for me was early in the day, when a pale-skinned Goth rocker led a new band called NIN into a ferocious set of music bordering on madness.

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Nearly two decades later, the two bands were back on the same stage together for what they both claim may be their real swansong for live performances. Thursday started early with a performance by Tom Morello and his new band, Street Sweeper Social Club. Morello is best known as the guitar player for Rage Against the Machine, one of the most socially relevant and successful alternative American bands ever. Also veterans of the Lollapalooza tours, I distinctly remember its opening-act performance at the third annual festival. I caught the 1993 performance, in a steamy, swampy, state fairground just outside of Orlando, Fla., on a sweltering midsummer day. Like NIN, its sheer intensity is what I remember most. Street Sweeper, unlike Morello’s last side project, the mellow Nightwatchman, sounds very much like RATM. They played a strong rocking set, early on, while most fans were still waiting in line to get into the venue.

Just after 6.30 p.m. Trent Reznor and NIN band members appeared on stage, appearing out of place like vampires in the daylight, just like the first Lollapalooza perfomance. Reznor, uncharacteristically talkative, commented several times on the daylight, even referencing the 1991 performance. When he returned for his triumphant encore he even exclaimed “Doesn’t it ever get dark here? Are we in Sweden?” But daylight or not, nothing took away from the intensity of this NIN performance. Looking much more fitter and muscular than ever, Reznor screamed his lyrics and danced fanatically about the stage like a frenzied teenager. Unlike earlier shock rock performers like Alice Cooper or Marilyn Manson, who take on a theatrical persona when they perform, Reznor is the real deal. Although he has proclaimed himself in recovery from years of drug abuse, his intense performances seem to be a vessel for the demons he has encountered in his life. In a house known to be filled with inspirations, like morbid and ghoulish photographs from the likes of Witkin, he weaves some of the most dark and disturbing lyrics and music ever produced. His performance at the Bowl was heavy on early material that he had not played live in a very long time. The hard and fast early songs were tempered with a variety of newer pieces, although more complex and melodic but just as dark. Always reinventing himself with forays like his collaboration with David Bowie, he played 1999’s “I’m Afraid of Americans,” a big hit for Bowie.

As evening finally fell, Jane’s Addiction took to the stage in a much more dreamlike state, with artsy video and a massive light show. Farrell, the consummate rock star, led the band into a relaxed trance-like transformation, completely different from the in-your-face NIN set. The Peter Pan persona of Ferrell always endears himself to everyone who witnesses his performance. Girls want to take him home like a pet puppy dog. Guys want to take him surfing on mushrooms in a tropical paradise. His positive, impish observations on politics and life harken to the idealism of the 1960s. His voice sounded much stronger than his last performance at the Bowl as he pranced around the band like a ballerina. Although Chili Peppers bassist Flea did a great job on Jane’s last reunion tour, it was great to see Eric Avery back completing the original lineup. A shirtless Dave Navarro led the rhythms of the band, vacillating from dreamlike trance band jams to punctuated Led Zepplin-esque explosions of heavy metal.

Jane’s, although not as musically relevant as NIN with long absences over the years, is still a great jam band. Seeming relaxed and ready to play all night, this is one band I would love to see perform in a venture like Bonnaroo, where bands are allowed to play as long as they want. As it was at the Bowl, they played past curfew, and even after a long day and night of historic music left us wanting more.

— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributor.

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