The Daily Page

April 2000

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