Nine Inch Nails: Mad, sad, never in doubt
The Fragile, the latest epic ode to fear, loathing and personal disintegration from Nine Inch Nails auteur Trent Reznor, may have opened to a shaky box office and mixed reviews, but on Saturday night Reznor performed like a who just doesn't care - a point he's been driving home since 1989's Pretty Hate Machine.
NIN went supernova upon arrival at the First Union Spectrum, and maintained that astounding level of intensity for the next 90 minutes. After the obligatory foreboding intro music, a two-story-high black curtain parted, and Reznor and Co. exploded forth in a blizzard of smoke, strobe lights and teeth-rattling volume. Performing under a low-hanging phalanx of lights on stage set that resembled a spaceship interior from Alien, Nine Inch Nails went about accomplishing Reznor's stated goal of leaving a powder burn on the face of the world. On record, NIN may come off as pretentious and plodding, but live, the band is a pulverizing primal scream machine: guitarist Robin Finck's roaring guitar suites seemingly cut from razor wire, bassist Danny Lohner and ace drummer Jerome Dillon's pummeling rhythmatic tantrums, Charlie Clouser's eerie keyboard textures, Reznor's whisper-to-a-scream vocals.
Reznor is a bipolar stylist - he's either mad or he's sad. With whiplash velocity, Saturday's set list switched back and forth from the rolling juggernaut of songs such as "Wish" and "March of the Pigs" to the mopy langour of "La Mer" and "The Fragile."
The "fragile" he is referring to, aside from his own tortured psyche, is his audience - the pierced, black-clad minions who filled the Spectrum. Raised with a shared sense of diminished expectations and limited access to happiness, these kids don't wonder why Columbine happened, they wonder why it doesn't happen more often. Some may say Reznor's music only keeps them mired in their own bottomless self-pity and self-loathing, but NIN's volatile live show is a vent that slowly lets the fetid air out of those demons.
"Wish there was something real, wish there was something good," Reznor sang on "Wish." In an era of prefab teen idols and dumbo rapmetal, Reznor is the answer to his own prayers.
-- Jonathan Valania
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is provided courtesy Keith Duemling and Tracy Thompson from the collection previously
located at SUS.