Nine Inch Nails hammers onward

Trent Reznor, band hit stride with new album

By MICHAEL D. CLARK for Houston Chronicle on October 20, 2005

Nine Inch Nails went through a strange transition period before returning to its early form on With Teeth. The band plays Toyota Center tonight.

"I'm out onstage and the song is beginning, and I suddenly realize, 'I forgot to write the words,' " says Reznor.

Then it gets weirder.

"It always takes place inside the airplane hangar scene from A Clockwork Orange."

While he's awake, Reznor — along with the rotating cast of like-minded musicians who jolt life into Nine Inch Nails — puts on a show of Kubrickian grandeur that makes the group's stop at the Toyota Center tonight an apt prelude to Halloween.

"I'm not afraid of being theatrical," says Reznor. "I've never claimed to be a people's band like Nirvana who were just hanging out by the gas station.

"I want the performance to flow and make it something memorable."

Ever since NIN was born in 1989 with debut album Pretty Hate Machine and the industrial menace of single Head Like a Hole, Reznor positioned himself as a hard-rocking, apocalyptic version of storyteller Vincent Price. His sound-effect drum pads and keyboard-enhanced clangs oozed further into the national consciousness five years later with The Downward Spiral. Putting the headphones on to listen was like taking a dreamland trip to Freddy Krueger's boiler room.

And much like the happenings in A Nightmare on Elm Street, it's as if the things that go bump in Reznor's night have emerged in real life through his music.

Though Reznor recently moved to Los Angeles, he hadn't yet transferred his recording studio in New Orleans, a city he called home for 14 years. Like the rest of the nation, he watched the city devastated after Hurricane Katrina.

"God made that decision for me," Reznor says about relocating the studio's equipment.

He has heard what remains of his recording space is in poor condition and mold-ridden, but he's also saddened by the destruction of the city's neighborhoods. "It's been an emotional roller coaster of disbelief, sadness and grieving."

Nine Inch Nails will headline two nights of the Voodoo Music Experience, which was rescheduled due to Katrina. The new dates, which will benefit the New Orleans Restoration Fund, are Oct. 29 in New Orleans and Oct. 30 in Memphis, Tenn.

Reznor had to deal with other setbacks this summer.

NIN drummer Jerome Dillon developed a heart condition that landed him in the hospital earlier this month, and there was some concern that the group might have to abort its tour. But 23-year-old Australian Alex Carapetis earned a spot in the band with a hastily arranged audition in Los Angeles.

"Before we played our first show (with Carapetis) in Chicago, we only had played the set with him one other time — at midnight, the night before, in the venue's cafeteria," says Reznor. "I had always believed that checking into a hospital for 'clinical exhaustion' was just another way of saying drug overdose. But I think we were close to clinical exhaustion at that point."

Saving the tour meant continued promotional duty for NIN's latest album, With Teeth.

It takes time to build a good nightmare, and Reznor has never been known as a prolific artist, releasing just four studio albums in 16 years. With the exception of the bloated 1999 double-disc release The Fragile, NIN albums have been masterful epics that creep along and build tension much like a horror flick.

For fans looking to wind back to the sound of The Downward Spiral, With Teeth is a particularly satisfying return to form. Songs like The Hand That Feeds and Only have that same pop-hook-to-meat-hook appeal that made past hits Hurt and Closer radio hits a little more than a decade ago.

With Teeth topped the Billboard album chart when it was released in May and has garnered sufficient interest and attention to allow Reznor to play large venues like the Toyota Center. He used to prefer more intimate club stages, but with this tour he's trying to take the larger platform in stride.

"I'm basically playing venues that I would never go see a band (play in) myself," he says. "(But) I try to focus on the pros: size, scale, magnitude. I can have a good PA (system) and take anything I want, as long as I'm stupid enough to pay for it."


With opening acts Queens of the Stone Age and Death From Above 1979

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Toyota Center, 1510 Polk St.

Tickets: -. Call 713-629-3700.

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