Call it Nine Inch Stale these days
It's unwise to posit yourself as an angry
auteur in rock. It leaves you no options.
Whereas it's perfectly acceptable for a
film director to spend decades exploring
a lone theme through an endless array of
styles, it's next to impossible for a rock
star to do the same. Most artists are
lucky if they get at least one massive
But Trent Reznor needs one immediately.
As leader (and often sole member) of the gloomy industrial rock
band Nine Inch Nails, one of the most influential acts of the '90s,
Reznor has mastered the role of the Grim Reaper's Best Friend.
His albums, especially 1994's bruisingly bleak "The Downward
Spiral," are more than just fascinating studies in extreme pathos.
harrowing tales of abuse and suicide are deeply felt even by the
most self-actualized fans.
Which explains why the Nails' 90-minute gig Tuesday night at the
Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim was sold out despite Reznor taking
five years to return to the stage. Once a messiah of misery, always
a messiah of misery - and Reznor's black-clad, fist-waving,
sneer-laden minions are an unwaveringly faithful lot.
But even the ardent had to notice that their anti-hero's turbulent
persona isn't aging well. Aimlessly knocking over equipment, for
instance, or tossing both his mike and his guitarist into the crowd
once seemed like amusing acts of aggression; now such tricks are
just pretentious and petulant.
Clearly he's trapped by his self-serving crown of catastrophe the
way Bowie (his hero) became trapped by Ziggy Stardust. And it's
evident Reznor wants out - that's what last year's magnum opus,
"The Fragile," was really about. Its spacious instrumentals and
swooping dynamics were an indication that the metallic thrash of
yesterday has grown stale. Woe may be the weapon, but there are
other ways to wield it.
But whereas Bowie established a pattern of quick changes early in
his career, Reznor has only spun his wheels. It's harder for him to
back away from his brutal youth now, and he knows it. That's why
the first and last thirds of Tuesday night's show were heavy on
expected roar (a stomping "Sin," an uncontrollable "March of the
Pigs") and recent rancor, like his notorious "Fame" rewrite, which
we'll call "Starsuckers Inc."
The middle of the Nails' set, however, glimpsed the future, as
Reznor jettisoned the tried and true in favor of deeper wells like
"La Mer," while slow-mo nature films and rave-euphoric lights
blinded the audience. That led to a few moments, notably a
blasphemously sultry "Closer" and a nasty version of "Head Like a
Hole," in which Reznor was able to slightly reinvent, adding nuance
to his mania.
But it's not enough. It may be fatal to his career to drastically
rethink the Nails at this point, but Reznor must if he wants to
becoming a laughingstock. Too often Tuesday night his show felt
like a nostalgic revue, a look back at the brightest moments from
acrimonious artiste, still dressed in the same fatigues he wore at
Hate to think that's how he'll be remembered when he has so much
more talent to burn.
A Perfect Circle, featuring Tool's Maynard James Keenan on
vocals, offered a sturdy (if samey) 45-minute opening set that
lacked the subtlety the group brought to its just-released debut.
Keenan, decked out like a glam Iggy Pop, was all wail and no
weight, while the band, led by guitarist Billy Howerdel, ran
roughshod over the flourishes that give each song personality.
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is provided courtesy Keith Duemling and Tracy Thompson from the collection previously
located at SUS.