By Josh C
You are squeezed on all sides by people packed tightly against each other. Thick heat from the massive clump of bodies weighs heavy on your skin. You laboriously breath the air in, the heat accompanied by the flavors of sweat and cigarette smoke. Slow, ethereal music drifts from speakers through the rising gray clouds. The pressure from body to body is so strong, that you can lift your feet off the ground and be held in the air from the force pressing against you. Someone near you, too short to get his head above the heat cloud, looks faint. The pressure subsides for a moment, making space for a neighbor to raise their hands to waist level to provide a step for the sick one to go up and over the crowd. He pukes on them. You face forward to see a sweat-shiny neck and damp hair. You exchange a casual greeting and begin a conversation. w
What are you doing in this bizarre commune? Are you a patient in a psychological experiment on group suffering? A patron of some kind of masochistic sauna? No- you are a Nine Inch Nails fan at the Target center in Minneapolis, waiting for the group to come on, and trying to get as close to the front of the stage as possible.
By the time the lights went down for A Perfect Circleís set, most of the people around me had gotten pretty antsy. Waves of pressure went through the crowd every once in awhile. I think the heat was making people delirious because the things they were saying didnít make much sense. There was some guy pretty near me that kept yelling weird things about Maynard Keenan. o
I like Tool quite a bit, so I had a lot faith in what Keenan would do with Circle, but when it was over I actually had a pretty lukewarm reaction to them. The combination of the bandís subdued stage presence, and my plan to save energy for NIN put me in the just-watch-and-try-not-to-fall-down mode. r
Many of the characterizing elements of Toolís music found their way into Circleís. There was quite a bit done with unusual time signatures for rock; many songs in broad three and six based meters. Keenanís voice was still the smooth and pure tone that he employs in Tool. But, the bandís interplay between parts was not as dynamic or complex, and there was a less aggressive presentation in general. The bandís pieces seemed more of a vehicle for Keenanís performance, than individual. The weird guy started yelling "Deep, passionate love, Maynard!" I donít think Keenan noticed. In fact I doubt he noticed much of anything at all, since he was stoned out of his gourd. After informing the crowd that it was his birthday, and asking fans to buy records from bands he liked as a favor, Keenan wound down the set and ended it at about 45 minutes. d
Nine Inch Nails started after a very protracted staging and set-up period, which included the arrangement of a floor-to-ceiling black curtain at the front of the stage. After over an hour of preparation behind the curtain, the deep thumping drums and the sharp staccato synths of Somewhat Damaged stirred the already rabid-with-antipation crowd into an ecstatic frenzy. Strobe lights flashed silhouettes of the band members against the curtain as Trent sang the first lyrics of the nightís set. As I heard Nine Inch Nails live for the first time, my first thought, other than "Holy shit, Iím gonna see Trent Reznor in about two seconds," was that Trentís voice remains totally true to the sound on the records. Often, singers will sound bad live, and when that happens it can mean a disappointing show. Reznorís voice was great, and when we heard it, it was like the final affirmation that "yes, Nine Inch Nails is playing right in front of us." Surprisingly, as the band reached the climactic single chorus, the lights and effects intensified, but the curtain stayed up. It was during the chaotic lull between the seething ending of the first song, and the beginning of Terrible Lie, that the curtain came down to reveal the band just as they started playing. From here on the band delivered a very diversified set spanning material from each record.
As soon as that curtain came down and I saw Trent leering over the mic only a matter of feet from where I was, I started to lose the logical thought process. His eyes were wide and bright; he was in black clothes and a sleeveless jacket. The entire band was bathed in spurratic, bright-white flood lights, shining at their backs and out at the crowd. I also started to loose footing as the entire mass of bodies around me began to shove in different directions. Sin followed, and later they played Head like a Hole. One cool thing about the songs from PHM was that they were so clean live. You could hear Trentís voice and his expressiveness probably better on them than any other songs of the concert. The live show has a lot of the aggressive and abrasive material that has been instrumental to earlier albums and live performances. Here, the band just kicked all ass. Songs driven by fast beats like March of the Pigs, Gave up, and Wish blasted the audience with the unique energy that only a live show can bring to a song. I doubt there was a single NIN fan on the floor that wasnít going nuts. p
The connection to the audience seemed to be a central factor to the performances. During the first section of songs the audience resounded the fury of the music with equally furious movement and general enthusiasm, but during the more lush and varied sections from The Fragile, the audience wasnít exactly unsure of how to react, (generally summed up with the attitude, "man, this isnít as easy to mosh to.")
The live material from The Fragile, in terms of the bandís presentation, was far from weak, and completely without disappointment for this audience member. While it didnít have the same sensitivity or the organic warmth as the music on the recording, it formed itís own musical shape to accommodate the live aspects; not worse, just different. Also, bold choices were made in the songs from the new record that were performed; The Frail, The Mark has Been Made, and La Mere-some of the most subtle songs on the album. With purely aggressive and direct music, not varying far in general audience connection, NIN would previously have had a bedrock of stability in their live shows before The Fragile. With a more subtle record, based on a more conciliatory theme, (a great studio achievement, definitely one of the best records of the year) a comprehensive performance will be much more interesting and challenging than previous tours.
All in all, despite a few casualties, (my watch got stripped from my wrist, my freind-created Andy Warhol cow shirt got massively ripped, and my red leather pants tore at the seam) this was the best money I ever spent on a show ticket. To conclude my review have to include a plug about Trent Reznor and The Fragile. After NINís hiatus following The Downward Spiral, there was undoubtedly so much pressure on Reznor to make a great record; to not disappoint. But the things Iíd read about Reznor, reading interviews with him talking about his projects, listening to the growth from PRM to TDS, I came to believe- this guy is a real musician-he wonít disappoint. I didnít think Reznor would ever put out a mediocre record, and as far as Iím concerned The Fragile proved it. I have for a long time looked on Reznor as a musical inspiration, and now I have faith in the integrity of anything he puts out. And in case he ever reads this, I want to tell him that this integrity he achieved is everything. Donít ever listen to the Fred Dursts or the Richard Patricks who try to tell you that theyíre more successful or they make more money or whatever. Hereís one fan who will follow your work if you release records until your eighty. I donít know if Limp Bizkit or Filter has many fans who will do that. I know I donít have to say these things, cause you know what itís all about. Iíd tell you, "just never lose that integrity," but I donít have to cause I know you wonít.