The Kansas City Star

May 2000

Nine Inch Nails: rocks the phonies out of Kemper

Who: Nine Inch Nails with A Perfect Circle

Where: Kemper Arena

When: Sunday, May 28

Audience: 6,400 (approx.)

Industrial strength

Nine Inch Nails rocks the phonies out of Kemper

Today's music scene has largely degenerated into an endless parade of interchangeable pretty boys and glamour girls, lip-syncing and dancing their way through toothless r&b written by middle-aged men.

But Sunday at Kemper Arena, Nine Inch Nails exorcised the demons of the venue's Rickys and Backstreets past, performing with a sonic sturm und drang that took no prisoners. For 75 minutes, the band painted a cathartic picture of darkness and despair, leaving the audience spent yet screaming for more.

Nine Inch Nails' recorded output is essentially the product of songwriter Trent Reznor, who has collaborated with a rotating lineup of musicians and producers to create his three highly regarded albums. But in its touring incarnation, NIN becomes a cohesive band that interprets its synthetic material organically. Electronic-based music is always a tricky proposition in a live setting. The robotic polyrhythms of sequenced drums and synthesizers can easily overwhelm a live performer, making a show seem canned and lifeless. Reznor and company's energy and polish easily avoided this trap, deftly incorporating the mechanized whirrs and clicks into one solid soundscape.

The band's current "Fragility v 2.0" tour is in support of the 1999 album "The Fragile," yet Reznor chose to play an assortment of songs from throughout his 11-year career. Performing behind a semi-opaque main drape, NIN began the show with "Somewhat Damaged," the opening track to "The Fragile." On the record, the song is a mixture of inhumanly accurate acoustic instruments, set to the rigid precision of a gurgling synthesizer bass line. As with the other numbers of the concert, though, the band has re-imagined the studio version of the song for live performance. Electric-acoustic guitars and live drums dominated instrumentally, while Reznor sang with an open-throated bellow quite unlike his constricted screams on the recording.

The curtain then parted to reveal the band, caked with stark white cornstarch and dressed in post-military garb. With his jet-black pageboy haircut, angular features and ghostly pale visage, Reznor looked like a villain from a Fritz Lang film as he and the band tore into "Terrible Lie," from 1989's "Pretty Hate Machine." The audience bounded up and down in unison, pounding fists into the air along to the song's deliberate, rhythmic blasts.

Even though Nine Inch Nails is primarily known for the bombast and raw power of its most brutal moments, the concert proved that much of that power comes from its creator's keen sense of contrast. When Reznor held the audience rapt throughout "The Frail," a quiet instrumental that recalls Erik Satie at his most minimal and sedate, it became clear that his music is very different from the bluster of Slipknot or Rammstein. The mood then morphed into the relentless, rolling gait of "The Wretched," one of Reznor's most subtly hard-edged songs, and the definite musical highlight of the concert.

The band ended the show with an encore consisting of the slow throb of "The Day the World Went Away" and the quiet, meditative "Hurt." The cornstarch now washed away by sweat, this was Reznor at his most human. With the lyric "Everyone I know goes away in the end," he made a poignant connection with anyone who has ever felt picked upon or alone.

Visually, "Fragility v 2.0" was remarkably varied and interesting throughout. Three mobile LED video screens sometimes projected impressionistic films, as in the plaintive ode to drowning "The Great Below." Other times they became solid fields of light and color behind the musicians. Much of Nine Inch Nails' music depends on digital samples of sound that have been purposely degraded in quality, resulting in a low-resolution version of themselves. Similarly, the performers standing in front of the rows of LED lights appeared in a rough, jagged silhouette that approximated the pixellated appearance of a low-resolution computer image.

Supporting Nine Inch Nails was A Perfect Circle, the new band of Maynard James Keenan, lead singer of Tool. The band performed a 50-minute set of hard rock that had something of the flavor of Tool, but with a more melodic bent. Its performance was capable and energetic, although Keenan's microphone was not turned up enough to make the lyrics comprehensible during the louder passages.

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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.