SF Gate

June 2000

Reznor Vents His Rage Nine Inch Nails' 2-hour primal scream leaves fans exhausted

Fans at the Cow Palace were too emotionally drained to mosh during Nine Inch Nails' harrowing encore, which wasn't surprising. Its exhaustion, in fact, was the greatest compliment Wednesday's packed house could have offered its beloved band.

NIN mastermind Trent Reznor has inspired fanatical devotion from his admirers by combining ground- breaking studio techniques with content so emotionally wrenching that it qualifies as a crash course in catharsis. Albums such as 1994's ``Downward Spiral'' and last year's ``The Fragile,'' which premiered at the top of the Billboard charts before being buried beneath a wave of rap-metal and kid-pop, were at once templates of innovative industrial music and therapy pamphlets for the lonely and disenchanted.

MISHAP IN THE MOSH PIT

Both facets of Reznor and NIN were in evidence on Wednesday. Played out on a stark, industrial stage set, the two-hour concert paired evocative musicianship with anthems steeped in simmering rage. Together these elements created as thorough an emotional exorcism as anyone with a little angst could want. After opening with the instrumental ``Pinion,'' Reznor, wearing his usual black sleeveless shirt and trousers, hit the stage howling with the hard-as-rock ``Terrible Lie'' from 1989's ``Pretty Hate Machine.'' Fans reacted so enthusiastically that Reznor had to stop the show briefly while an injured kid was removed from the mosh pit.

GENERATING HEAT

After that, unmitigated fury reigned. ``March of the Pigs'' sent the moshers roiling anew; later, ``Starf--, Inc.'' and ``Suck'' inspired both Reznor and his audience to slam themselves -- and in Reznor's case, his guitar -- against the stage in time to the songs' vitriolic lyrics and jackhammer beats. The grinding sexuality of numbers such as ``Reptile'' and ``Closer'' conjured up so much erotic steam that the band began throwing water into the crowd.

The lengthy instrumental numbers gave all a chance to chill, whether wallowing in the swampy doom of ``The Wretched'' and ``The Frail'' or being swept away in the fluid melodies of ``La Mer.''

NIN changes personnel according to its leader's musical needs, and the latest incarnation was dynamite in spite of a muddy sound mix. Robin Finck kept the band's grinding guitar effects flush and consistent; bassist Danny Lohner and drummer Jerome Dillon supplied the requisite mechanistic thunder; and keyboardist Charlie Clouser lent each song a haunting, synthesized heart.

The band's visceral performance was made all the more impressive by the fact that they've been touring ceaselessly for months.

If Reznor suffered from burnout, he didn't show it, even when performing older material. Instead, he appeared hell-bent on pushing himself to the physical limit on rabid renditions of head-bangers such as ``Head Like a Hole'' and ``Wish,'' which culminated with the singer nearly tottering from the stage as he flung his guitar into the mosh pit.

The night was given thematic and emotional closure with ``Hurt,'' a painfully personal account of grief, self-hatred and grudging endurance, performed beneath a suspended light panel that looked like the monolith from ``2001: A Space Odyssey.''

THE NIN ODYSSEY

A ludicrous observation, maybe, but one that fits. Like Stanley Kubrick's 1969 film, a Nine Inch Nails concert is a journey that leads audience members into their own psychic unknowns with the promise that, in the end, some form of personal transcendence awaits. As Reznor sings in ``The Fragile's'' ``The Day the World Went Away,'' ``There is a place that still remains/ It eats the fear, it eats the pain.'' Arguably, for two hours on Wednesday night that place was the Cow Palace. Life's a bitch, and then you fly.

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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.