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(Almost) All That Could've Been

Nine Inch Nails - And All That Could Have Been. Live
(Nothing Records)
3 1/2 Stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: February 22, 2002


By Tony Bonyata

It seemed like a perfect idea - to produce a live recording documenting Nine Inch Inch Nails' explosive '99 tour, which proved to be the strongest live performance of that year. And while NIN mastermind Trent Reznor's first live recording, entitled And All That Could Have Been.Live, is still a great album, it falls slightly short of actually being at one of their shows or, for that matter, listening to one of their studio albums.
The experience of slipping on a pair of headphones and listening to Reznor's brutal yet frail studio masterpieces, such as The Fragile or The Downward Spiral, is aurally orgasmic, as the invasive industrial clangor imbeds a sense of dread and despair while also giving way to more subtle, ambient soundscapes, which hint, without promise, at hope.
Their live shows on the other hand, are a nonstop assault on the senses. The music when performed live is no less carnal than their studio productions. They, in fact, seem to take their music to an even more dangerous level onstage, which is not only apparent through their songs but also their volatile stage performances, that in the past have left both band and audience members bloodied, bruised and broken.
One of the great things about this industrial band, both onstage and on this live album, is that they mix their repertoire up heavily. Unlike other industrial acts, such as Ministry, who don't revisit their older material in concert, NIN instead incorporates both old and new stock and dresses it up or down as Reznor sees fit. And All That Could Have Been effectively mixes older numbers such as "Sin," "Terrible Lie," "March of the Pigs," and "Head Like A Hole" with newer monsters like "The Wretched," "The Great Below" and "The Mark Has Been Made" to great effect.
While the production and performances of And All That Could Have Been are superb for a live album, it may be the lack of their volcanic visuals and onstage danger that is what's missing from this album.
A possible solution to this may lie in Part Two of Reznor's packaging of this tour, which comes in the format of a DVD - Reznor's first ever. Shunning the slick MTV-styled production of so many other live shows recorded for resale before it, Reznor produced the video himself - with his own mini digital cameras set on tripods and manned by various crew members throughout the tour. While I have not yet personally seen the DVD (I was lucky enough to catch the original circus when it came through town, however) this would seem the obvious choice to get a better feel for the whole show.
This live album paints a very good, if not whole, picture of a Nine Inch Nails' show. But if the DVD is anywhere near as strong as the sound and vision of their live performances, then skip the album and go with the package that shows not only what could have been, but also what was.

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