013, Tilburg, Holland
November 28, 1999
"It's like beating your head open and
unzipping you chest cavity and saying, Here are my guts -- everything I've
felt, including a lot of stuff I'm not proud of. It's hard. It uses you up. I
walk off stage sometimes and I feel like I've just slept with everybody in the
Trent Reznor, Mr Nine Inch Nails himself,
purveyor of pathological disgust and self-hatred to the masses, is quietly
explaining what his evening holds in store. This is the man who, in 1997, was
said by Time magazine to be one of America's Top 25 most influential citizens;
the man who helped make Marilyn Manson what he is today ("vengeful,
spiteful - he lives his life, I live min", being Reznor's current
assessment). One of nature's sunbeams he is not, but seeing how he's about to
shortly put himself through the performance mincer, Trent Reznor is looking and
sounding comparatively chipper.
Could it be that after the infamous excesses of
his last touring experience with Manson and the Jim Rose Circus (enemas,
trepanning and mountains of cocaine, go the stories) which took him right to
the brink, he's calmed down?
"I'm a different person from last time
around - older and, I hope, wiser. It may be the maturity creeping in, although
I'd hate to admit it."
That growing up, he reckons, is reflected in
The Fragile, Nine Inch Nails' first offering since 1994's prophetic The
Downward Spiral, the album that took Reznor and crew to US star status with
over four million units shifted.
A 100-minutes plus double set, it's
demonstrably more textured than anything previously bearing the NIN logo, with
even some dark grey variations to the hitherto homogeneous black, black, black.
For fans and sceptics alike, though, it's still reassuringly grim.
"It's not exactly uplifting, I know. Yet I
would say there's a thread of optimism that wasn't present before. I think of
The Downward Spiral as a straight line down. This one starts at the bottom and
doesn't exactly arrive at the top, but at least it's attempting repair; looking
for answers rather than me just trying to cut all my limbs off." Then a
strange thing happens: Trent Reznor laughs.
Alone at home with Nine Inch Nails' albums
(nearest aural equivalent: root canal surgery) is not everybody's cup of tea. Odd
then, that live they should offer such a mesmeric, theatrical rock experience. Odd
that is, until you remember Reznor's earlier claim: "We don't really have
the radio on our side or MTV in our pocket. The only real avenue to get word
out is touring. It's something we've always put a lot of time and effort into,
the reason we've got to where we are now." Back on the road after a
four-year gap, that shows.
The whole room shudders like it's being stalked
by something particularly nasty from the darkest corners of HP Lovecraft's
imagination. There's an unlimited supply of dry ice and the lights strobe and
flicker with merciless abandon as, over a staccato machine gun rattle, a
shadowy, back-lit Reznor gets stuck into the opener, Somewhat Damaged. The
piquant chorus goes, "Broken bruised forgotten sore /Too fucked up to care
anymore." Obviously hitting the spot, the crowd mouth along. Despite the
regulation funeral garb, it seems they've come to celebrate, not contemplate
their own putrefaction. All quite healthy, really.
Coupled with the brutal machine-driving
collision of metal, hardcore, industrial clanging and '80s synth-pop, it's
retina burning stuff; the band flogging themselves senseless for 90 minutes of
choreographed anger and frustration, not forgetting guitarist Robin Finck's
impressive six-out-of-six vault into the finger-jabbing throng.
The only respite comes when, briefly, the music
takes an ambient turn with La Mer and The Great Below and the five get to hide
behind a dropped canvas while projected images of fishy shoals and pellucid
pools provide appropriate visual distraction.
Come the bile-driven Head Like a Hole and
Starfuckers, Inc., however, such restraint has long been forgotten. A polite
"thank you" and battery of white light trained directly on the
moshed-to-bits crowd signals when it's all over. Rarely can the black-walled
013 have experienced anything quite like it. Then again, what has?
Taken too seriously (as if), you'd never want
anything to do with the rest of humanity again. Yet viewed as a sort of tribal
exorcism - better out than in, as they say - NIN deliver exhilarating,
confrontational entertainment of the highest order. What that says about the
modern world is best left to another day. Tonight, judging by the sated bodies
afterwards, it's just what the doctor ordered. **** (out of five)