Chicago Sun Times

April 2000

Nine Inch Nails stuck in the '90s

Angst isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Just about everyone on the musical spectrum circa 2000 has realized this--everyone except for Trent Reznor and a hard-core coterie of fans nostalgic for those miserable angst-ridden mid-'90s ("the bad old days," if you will).

Leading a new incarnation of Nine Inch Nails at a sold-out UIC Pavilion on Good Friday night, Reznor showed zero growth as a live performer since his last appearance at the same venue, headlining over Hole five years ago.

This was especially disappointing because his long-awaited third album, "The Fragile," was such an inventive and multilayered tapestry of imaginative sounds, even if the lyrics were still hopelessly mired in self-pity.

The ambitious double album was a critical success but a commercial flop. Reznor is attempting to resuscitate it on tour, but mass tastes have changed, and a new, younger generation of fans has turned its attentions elsewhere.

Faced with this harsh reality, Nine Inch Nails took the conservative route, largely sacrificing the subtlety of the "The Fragile" and the recorded versions of older songs like "March of the Pigs" and "Closer" for a relentless but generic brand of industrial thrash.

It was as if a five-piece band was trying to deliver music scored for a 40-piece orchestra. The outline was there, but it just wasn't the same in terms of power, grandeur, or complexity.

Drummer Jerome Dillon thumped along with the programmed mechanical rhythms; guitarist Robin Finck and bassist Danny Lohner dressed like rejects from the Misfits and made noises like scraping metal; Charlie Clouser twirled his keyboards like Keith Emerson back in the day, and Reznor knocked his microphone stand over and threw bottles of water into the crowd to feign excitement.

It was a losing battle. On their worst night, Chicago's industrial pioneers Ministry were 10 times better--and even their act was old by 1992.

Throughout the 70-minute set, Reznor delivered his pronouncements of misery: "Feels like salvation comes only in my dreams . . . Didn't turn out the way you wanted it to . . . I'm the one without a soul . . . You can't help my isolation; you can't help the hate that it brings."

This unceasingly tortured rant brought to mind nothing so much as Billy Crystal's old "Saturday Night Live" skit with the creepily contented masochist. ("I was playing with the stapler yesterday, and I stapled my lips together. Don't you hate when you do that?")

The set's only bright spot was a trio of eerie, ambient, mostly instrumental tunes midway through. But Reznor did a disservice to this material from "The Fragile" by flashing hackneyed video images of flowing water and arctic landscapes seemingly lifted from a TV nature program, and most of the crowd tuned out, waiting for him to return to more raucous stuff a la "Head Like A Hole."

Led by Maynard James Keenan of Tool, openers and Reznor proteges A Perfect Circle presented a tired set of bombastic, vaguely goth-flavored hard rock. Both bands return to the UIC Pavilion on Wednesday, but rest assured that you won't be missing much if you skip them.

ROCK MUSIC REVIEW BY JIM DEROGATIS

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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.