Wall of Sound

April 2000

NIN's Cleveland Tour Opener Disappoints

"Everything's all right," whimpered Trent Reznor toward the end of "March of the Pigs," the third song he performed on the first night of Nine Inch Nails' North American tour. But everything wasn't all right at NIN's April 12 show. Outside the Cleveland State University Convocation Center, scalpers were peddling their wares at under face value. The venue — in Reznor's former hometown — was only two-thirds filled. And the predominantly 20- and 30-something crowd didn't seem to really get "down in it" with the pained rocker.

As the lackluster evening proved, five years is a long time to be gone from the stage. In the time since Reznor unleashed his industrial epic The Downward Spiral in 1994 and since the release of the introspective, ambient The Fragile last year, the music world has been completely reconfigured. There doesn't seem to be much room in the teen-pop- and hip-hop-dominated new decade for an aging angst-rocker.

The changing times can't take all the blame for Reznor's fall from pop grace, however. Reznor's torment has always been of the store-bought variety, and Wednesday night's nostalgia show seemed especially inauthentic.

Despite Reznor's frequent claims in interviews that he strives to make his concerts into true events, the evening's main excitement came from three giant projection screens set up behind him. Reznor, dressed in retro 1980s fatigues, combat boots, and a tattered shirt, spent much of the evening leaning against the mic stand for support as he howled his tunes of misery. His band (keyboardist Charlie Clouser, guitarist Robin Finck, bassist Danny Lohner, and drummer Jerome Dillon), dressed like rejects from Road Warrior Part XX, bounded back and forth across the stage, occasionally striking stylized poses.

Reznor barely acknowledged the audience members, and it was no surprise that they didn't warm to him. He did try to do a little crowd pleasing, however, by dusting off old classics like "Terrible Lie" and "Head Like a Hole." The group's tense, tight versions of these tracks were the best-received of the night, eliciting more than a little fist-pumping and lighter-flicking.

The audience seemed far less interested in songs from Reznor's new album, which made up half the show. The ominous, opening "Somewhat Damaged" elicited some cheers, but the linear, laid-back instrumentals from The Fragile that Reznor chose to feature in the middle part of the set left the crowd cold, even when he stepped behind the keyboards on the delicately pretty "La Mer." The group's playing on these songs was perfectly competent, though the accompanying Discovery Channel-esque footage of falling raindrops and beaches added to the background-music, soundtrack-like feel.

The only time Reznor seemed to show any real emotion was during the petulantly angry encore, "Starf--kers Inc.," an apparent jab at his usurper-former protégé, Marilyn Manson, which energized the crowd enough to sing along to a line borrowed from Carly Simon ("You're so vain").

Opening band A Perfect Circle, led by Tool's Maynard James Keenan, couldn't seem to elicit any kind of response at all from the crowd, which mostly used the group's plodding goth-metal set as an opportunity to visit the vending stands. — Laura DeMarco

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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.