Crowd gets closer with NIN

By Sean Daly for St Petersburg Times on October 23, 2005

TAMPA -- Humiliation, alienation, degradation: Pick a bummer-ation, and chances are good that Nine Inch Nails frontman/creepy guy Trent Reznor banged his brooding head about it at the St. Pete Times Forum Saturday night.

If there was anyone who thought NIN would cancel the local gig due to the hurricane threat, they don't know Reznor, an all-world moper who's spent most of his 40 years slam-dancing with the inner demons raging in his skull.

In this Reznor's world, it's dark and stormy 365 days a year.

Since his band's 1989 debut, Pretty Hate Machine , Reznor's best-selling brand of industrial rock -- that is, electronic beats, pounding synthesizers, buzzing guitars, throat-scraping screams -- has been all about anger and fear and really baaad love. As a result, his songs have proved the perfect music for, say, boogieing across broken glass.

But what the show's 9,944 black-clad attendees would also tell you (well, besides how best to rip a pair of fishnet stockings) is that Reznor can be an incredibly catchy songwriter, too; for instance, the soft melody for the ballad Hurt -- which was famously covered by an aged, ailing Johnny Cash -- is nothing short of gorgeous.

Reznor kept the ecstatic throngs off balance all night. Backed by four aggressive bandmates -- including new drummer Alex Carapetis, filling in for ailing tubthumper Jerome Dillon -- he played slow-building opener Love Is Not Enough , from chart-topping new album With Teeth , from behind a thin white curtain; with strobe lights popping and silhouettes flashing, it looked like a heavy-metal lightning storm going down in a fishbowl. Cool stuff.

After that, the curtain rose and a guitar-strapped Reznor -- his black hair shorn close, his sleeveless black shirt making him look like Satan's mechanic -- berated the crowd with the equally new You Know What Your Are? , a wicked song that inspired swirling eddies of anger, aka mosh pits.

(The curtain would later be dropped to show a disturbing collage of images ranging from warring baboons to military warfare to George W. Bush dancing with his wife.)

For March of the Pigs , from 1994's exceptional, and exceptionally bleak, album The Downward Spiral , Reznor thrashed around the stage like he was looking for a fight, the chugga-chugga song amped to punk speeds except for the deceptively chipper chorus: "Now doesn't that make you feel better?" For Reznor, that's a pretty good joke.

The night's highlight -- and proof that Reznor could be a pop-minded hit machine if he weren't such a surly dude -- was a thumping, seething Closer, which you could consider a love song ... if you happened to be Courtney Love. An amazingly infectious song that will get you arrested if you ever sing it in public , the midtempo Closer prowled along on a demonic insistent keyboard line and Reznor's animalistic come-ons.

It was filthy -- but it was also fantastic.

NIN wasn't the only act on the bill with anger issues. Kudos goes out to Death From Above 1979, a proggy speed-metal duo, for raising a tinnitus-inducing ruckus basically with just a guitar and a drum kit.

And before Reznor unloaded his issues, Queens of the Stone Age, led by the lovably ramshackle Josh Homme, alternated between the mud-sludgy riffs of Black Sabbath and the clean metal-pop of the Foo Fighters.

Heads will be ringing for a while after this one -- which, of course, was entirely the point.

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