Boston Globe Online

May 2000

Nine Inch Nails hammer as hard as ever

WORCESTER - Industrial rockers Nine Inch Nails may not be the fixture on the charts that they once were, but leader Trent Reznor and company still know how to hypnotize an audience. They do it through sheer decibels on the one hand - no band vibrates listeners quite the way they do - and with a striking change of musical colors, from minor-key instrumentals to lacerating metal rave-ups. It all suggests a post-apocalyptic act that could be playing when the next Titanic sinks.

Reznor's themes, which deal with need and rejection in ways that would make Jean-Paul Sartre proud, were also framed with one of the most outstanding light shows in memory, giving the sold-out crowd a psychedelicized experience that lifted this well above mere journeymen head-banging.

Using light-crystal display (LCD) screens installed by video artist Bill Viola, NIN took the crowd on a bracingly artistic journey. After opening with the crunching ''Terrible Lie'' (''Please don't tear away from me, I need you to hold onto!'' Reznor shrieked in the song's climax) NIN followed with the synth-swelling ''March of the Pigs'' and ''Piggy,'' then the light show really began.

Songs from NIN's latest album ''The Fragile'' (such as ''The Frail,'' ''The Wretched,'' and the Debussy-inspired ''La Mer'') were accompanied by images on the three vertical and parallel LCD screens that showed water ripples, rapids, bursts of fire, and a man diving into a pool, sinking fast. They rivaled Pink Floyd's wildest creations and had the crowd in a trance.

Reznor, dressed in a sleeveless work shirt that looked borrowed from Bruce Springsteen, then switched more radical gears, hitting the punk-laced oldie, ''Wish,'' the manic ''Suck,'' and a whomping version of Queen's ''Get Down, Make Love.'' Even in the apocalypse, romance still has its lure.

NIN guitarist Robin Fink, newly returned after playing in the studio with Axl Rose for a couple of years, helped bring a rapier edge to the proceedings, as did keyboardist Charlie Clouser on a synthesizer that swung around on a tripod to trippy effect.

The band peaked with the coldly sexual ''Closer'' (which many strippers use as mood music), then completely went over the top with ''Head Like a Hole,'' with Reznor venting, ''I'd rather die than give you control.'' It was a super-heavy wrap to a concert that probed more dark abysses than just about any other rock soiree this year, though it also felt oddly cleansing and exhilarating, proving that NIN still has staying power.

Opening act A Perfect Circle, featuring Maynard Keenan of Tool, was well-received even though the crowd hadn't yet heard its album (which comes out May 23). Some songs suggested the dramatic sweep of Tool, including new single ''Judith,'' but others had chops but little resonance. The jury is still out on them, though they appear to have a can't-miss future in the marketplace. Four million people bought the last Tool album, so if only a quarter buy Keenan's side project, that's still a million copies - a dream for most bands.

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Nine Inch Nails
Nine Inch Nails
This article is provided courtesy Keith Duemling and Tracy Thompson from the collection previously located at SUS.