Story and Photo by Tony BonyataLong known for their intense live shows - filled with aggro-industrial electronics, angst-ridden vocals dripping with dread and despair and dangerous onstage antics, maiming both instruments and bodies alike (former bandmembers have suffered broken ribs, lacerations and even a hernia onstage), Nine Inch Nails unveiled a deeper, more introspective version of the band to a sold-out crowd at The Dane County Coliseum in Madison last week.
Led by Nails' brainchild Trent Reznor, their new live sound is a by-product of their latest album The Fragile, which still pounds and claws, but also reveals a softer side of Reznor through more gentle, thought-provoking instrumentals. The frenetic strobe lighting cast gigantic silhouettes of the band through a large curtain covering the stage on the opening number "Somewhat Damaged," which coerced the motley audience of young skinheads, metal-mongers, goths and other punkish misfits into a sea of moshing bodies that flowed toward the stage and spilled over into a line of security guards like a waterfall of flesh and army boots. As the curtains parted it seemed very much like the aggressive band of the past as Reznor, with thick mascara and black mop, along with touring musicians, Charlie Clouser (keyboards), Jerome Dillon (drums), Robin Finck (guitar) and Danny Lohner (bass), imploded into "Terrible Lie," from their first album Pretty Hate Machine.
On the number "Sin," Reznor screamed, "You give me the anger, you give me the nerve..." as he spat water into the crowd and body-checked into bandmembers, eventually pushing Finck, with guitar in hand, off the stage.
Reznor shot off rounds of older arsenal from The Downward Spiral and Pretty Hate Machine, such as "March Of The Pigs," "Closer" and "Head Like A Hole" which made alliances with the full frontal assault of "The Wretched" and "The Day The World Went Away," complete with Beatle-esqe "Hey Jude" "na-na-nahs," from The Fragile. "This is a nice song about a friend of mine," he exclaimed, referring to one-time cohort Marilyn Manson, as the band blasted into "Star[expletive], Inc., before interjecting the Carly Simon line, "You're so vain, I bet you think this song is about you, don't you?" But as Reznor discovered on the road to making The Fragile, all angst and no bliss makes Trent a dull, depressed boy.
It was the moments of The Fragile's bliss like the lonely, gentle piano of "The Frail" and the serene ebb and flow of "La Mer," which featured multiple large screens with colorful rippling water and submerging bodies, as well as the intelligent rock instrumentals "Just Like You Imagined" and "The Mark Has Been Made" that gave this show more texture, substance and feeling.
Although he ended the show proclaiming, "I will let you down on the low, self-loathing number "Hurt", Reznor instead offered an engaging and haunting performance that was for the first time in the Nails' history actually uplifting.
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