The Prince of Darkness
Like everyone else who ruled the roost
five years ago, Trent Reznor no longer
experiences total domination of the
industrial-rock marketplace. But unlike his
peers, the Nine Inch Nails leader hasn't
let the downturn in his personal economy
impair his will to power. Last Saturday at
the Dane County Coliseum, Reznor's
high-dB wrecking crew punched and
pummeled a near-capacity crowd into
submission with a perfectly paced
extravaganza of light and sound that
easily qualified as the best arena-sized
touring show of the new millennium.
Drawing material from his latest journey into the heart of
darkness, the double-CD Fragile, as well as earlier exercises in
self-flagellating introspection, the
hawk-nosed star led his four-piece
backing band through a feverish set that
alternated electro-funk instrumentals with
mutant thrash material. The tempos came
from Motorhead and the bleak outlook
from A-list British Goths like Joy Division
and Sisters of Mercy. Aural highpoints of
the marathon show included an eerie,
breast-clutching rendition of "The Day the
World Went Away" from the new CD and a
careening, PA-frying take on "Closer" from
NIN's monstrously successful 1995 album
The Downward Spiral.
The concert's stark, high-tech visuals
were nearly as impressive as the band's perfervid performance.
For about half the show, a triptych of long, thin video screens
beamed minimalist films of water and fire in motion. Sometimes
the images were reinforced with bright white lighting effects;
sometimes they were left to stand on their own as the amped-up
Reznor rasped, shouted and crooned his gray-toned verses to the
enraptured multitudes. Word is the dude who put together some
of Pink Floyd's tours did the set and lighting design for this one,
but the Floyd's LSD-inspired inflatable pigs and kaleidoscopic
videos weren't half as powerful--or grimly meaningful--as this.
Is Reznor a genius? I wouldn't say so. Even at their most
electronic, his drop-forge industrial songs have always been
carefully constructed to appeal to metal heads, "alternative"
types and popsters who would never dream of picking up a
reissue of truly deviant industrialists like Throbbing Gristle or SPK.
However, I will say this: Reznor shows he cares about his fans by
putting on an ear- and eye-grabbing show that's more about
tapping into the fierce, chaotic energy of youth than it is about
celebrating his own star quality. It was no coincidence that the
steel-fisted portion of NIN's long encore closed out with
"Starfuckers Inc." Fact is, Reznor is a committed outsider, and he
makes certain that all the outsiders in his audience know that he
feels their pain completely.
Openers A Perfect Circle had a handful of strong neo-metal
songs, but they relied so much on Tool frontman Maynard James
Keenan's dramatic vocals that most of their set lacked definition.
With luck, these perfectly competent up-and-comers will pick up
some pointers about pacing and showmanship from Reznor as he
ignites arenas from coast to coast.
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is provided courtesy Keith Duemling and Tracy Thompson from the collection previously
located at SUS.