Nine Inch Nails shows its teeth at fiery SOMA show

By George Varga for San Diego Union-Tribune on June 1, 2005

Controversy, what controversy?

In an era when marginally talented, wannabe rock stars leap at every opportunity to grab the spotlight, Nine Inch Nails' sold-out Monday night concert here at SOMA was especially notable – and commendable – for lacking even a hint of controversy.

The alternately galvanizing and meandering show at the sweaty, all-ages venue came just a few days after the Trent Reznor-led band quietly dropped out of the June 4th taping of the annual MTV Movie Awards in Los Angeles. The reason, Reznor said in a statement posted on Nine Inch Nails' Web site, was MTV's refusal to let the band perform its antiwar song, "The Hand That Feeds," with a "straightforward image of George W. Bush as the backdrop."

In a statement released Monday, MTV said: "While we respect Nine Inch Nails' point of view, we were uncomfortable with their performance being built around a partisan political statement. When we discussed our discomfort with the band, their choice was to unfortunately pull out of the Movie Awards."

The network's refusal to allow the use of Bush's image prompted Reznor's sharp, online retort: "Apparently, the image of our president is as offensive to MTV as it is to me." Given these developments, there was good reason to expect that Reznor would pointedly use Monday's SOMA show to blast President Bush, the war in Iraq and MTV. Such onstage remarks would have been even more timely, since "The Hand That Feeds" was the sixth song performed Monday.

But in a refreshing display of restraint that's all too rare in these days of dial-a-rage rants, Reznor didn't exploit the MTV imbroglio. In fact, he didn't utter a single word about it at SOMA, where Nine Inch Nails was also scheduled to perform a sold-out gig last night.

Instead, he let the song speak for itself, as he spit out such troubled, troubling lyrics as: What if this whole crusade's a charade / And behind it all there's a price to be paid / For the blood on which we dine / Justified in the name of the holy and the divine / Just how deep do you believe / Will you bite the hand that feeds?

On "With Teeth," Nine Inch Nails' new album (and recent chart-topper), "The Hand That Feeds" sounds uncharacteristically tame and out of date, which is what happens when you take six years between album releases.

At SOMA, the song was delivered with a ferocious power that was made all the more effective by its being placed between the chilling ballad "Something I Can Never Have" and the rousing "Terrible Lie" (both from Nine Inch Nails' 1989 debut album, "Pretty Hate Machine").

Surprisingly, the 92-minute show included only two other songs from "With Teeth," the slow-burning "Love Is Not Enough," and the uneven ballad "Home" (which only appears on foreign-released versions of the new album).

By comparison, Nine Inch Nails' 2000 concert at SDSU's Cox Arena featured eight songs from its then-current album, "The Fragile." But that album marked a surprisingly understated and sophisticated step forward, lyrically and musically, for Reznor (whose albums under the Nine Inch Nails monicker are largely solo outings), while "With Teeth" seems to mark a retreat to his raging-against-the-machine commercial heyday of the mid-'90s.

Perhaps, then, the scarcity of songs from "With Teeth" was Reznor's way of acknowledging that his older songs – such as "Gave Up," the concert-closing "Head Like a Hole" and the ballad "Hurt" (one of several numbers the enthusiastic audience sang along on, word for word) – are generally superior to most of the songs on the artistically timid "With Teeth."

Anchored by Jerome Dillon's metronomic drumming, the concert suffered at times from erratic pacing. But Nine Inch Nails burned brightly for nearly two-thirds of the night, and for most of its fans, that was more than sufficient.

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