Concert produced like a theater piece
There were so many surprising aspects of the
Nine Inch Nails show Wednesday night at the Cow
Palace that it's tough to tell where to begin.
Perhaps most amazing was the quality of the sound
in the old rodeo yard, a notoriously horrible venue
that tends to swallow and mute music worse than
any other place than the Bill Graham Civic
Auditorium. Astonishingly, probably because Nails
leader Trent Reznor cares so much about "The
Fragile," the recently released double CD that the
group spent two years in the studio producing, the
music was crystal clear in the hall.
Once the shock of that feat wore off, the next
mind-bender was the effort the group put into the
lighting and staging to accompany their music. This
was not just a concert, this was performance art.
Reznor has assembled what may be his best version
of the Nails yet -- at least onstage. Guitarist Robin
Finck was a particular standout, able to adapt his
playing to any mood associated with Reznor's
eclecticly stylized catalog of songs.
If he needed to provide a subtle yet unforgettable
accompaniment to "La Mer," one of the new
records gentler tracks, Finck flowed through the
song effortlessly, his playing noticeable only when
the listener realized how much he or she was being
transported emotionally to an almost liquid mental
state. And not the kind of liquid mental state you
might see at a Jimmy Page concert, where so much
Jack Daniels is consumed that the brain is floating
along in Ol' Number 7.
"La Mer," and it's immediate follow-up, both live
and on the record, "The Great Below," were
visually stunning as the group used three massive,
17-foot tall columns -- the center panel 6 feet wide
and the two side panels 3 feet wide -- to project
imagery by noted video artist Bill Viola.
Viola's images, on the columns designed by lighting
expert Marc Brickman -- who helped give Pink
Floyd a lot of their exceptional concert reputation --
grew from peaceful images of ripples in the water to
more conflicting, violent imagery of fire and water as
the band's sound grew in intensity.
The efforts made in staging alone -- plus the band's
willingness to consciously mix some of their older
material like "Wish" from 1992's "Broken" EP and
especially "Hurt," the tune from 1994's "Downward
Spiral" that Reznor used to close the show with a
burst of heartfelt soul that left the audience nearly
breathless -- displayed how much thought had been
given to every detail of this Nine Inch Nails tour.
They weren't just pushing the new product, they
were creating a living, breathing musical novel, the
songs fit that seamlessly.
And really, maybe the most remarkable aspect of
Wednesday night's show was how Nine Inch Nails,
a group famed for their articulate expressions of
angst and loneliness and nihilism, could leave a full
house wandering out into the rain smiling as though
they had just seen The Monkees.
The cathartic experience is one of the greatest
emotions on the planet, and with Reznor's
compositions loaded with experiences of
abandonment, hopelessness and pain that usually
can never be so eloquently expressed, let alone
shared, it is little wonder that people can leave
Take, for example, the title track to the latest
double CD. Here, Reznor can sing of a mystery
woman how "She shines in a world full of
ugliness/She matters when everything is meaningless
"Fragile. She doesn't see her beauty/ She tries to get
away sometimes/ It's just that nothing seems worth
saving/ I can't watch her slip away/ I won't let you
The sentiment may not be so different from the great
Roy Orbison's "Only the Lonely," but the healing
that can take place when one feels less alone can
never be underestimated. Nine Inch Nails, and
Trent Reznor's willingness to hold back nothing of
his own inner turmoil, made Wednesday night's
concert easily one of the best shows since the
yearometer clicked over to zeros.
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is provided courtesy Keith Duemling and Tracy Thompson from the collection previously
located at SUS.