Great NIN show ends on sour note

By Troy Reimink for The Grand Rapids Press on February 21, 2006

See what happens when you throw things at the stage?

Nine Inch Nails' show at the DeltaPlex Entertainment and Expo Center ended rather abruptly Monday night after a projectile thrown by someone in the audience struck frontman Trent Reznor in the face.

Reznor was alone on stage, playing the opening strains of "Hurt." The song was approaching its crescendo when the object hit him. Reznor pushed over his keyboard and stormed off stage, not to return. The house lights came on almost immediately.

And who could blame him? You play your guts out for almost two hours -- only to have some clown ruin it. We'll be lucky if NIN ever decides to come back. A show official said Reznor escaped serious injury but got a black eye from the tossed object. The band is scheduled to perform tonight in Toledo, Ohio.

Fortunately, all this happened 21 songs into the show, so it was presumably close to the end anyway, but now we have to speculate about what an encore might have included (I'm guessing "The Hand That Feeds," "Piggy" and "Head Like a Hole").

The end notwithstanding, this was an intense, almost perfectly executed concert. Reznor and company came out roaring with a one-two-three punch of NIN classics: "Mr. Self Destruct," "Sin," "Terrible Lie."

Hearing these songs, it's almost unfathomable how ahead of its time NIN was in the '90s. Can you believe it's been a dozen years since "The Downward Spiral" popularized industrial rock, and that "Pretty Hate Machine" will turn 17 later this year?

Obviously, much of the band's audience exists because of "Closer," whose famously crude lyrics supplied one of the least romantic choruses to ever appear in a top-40 single.

NIN got "Closer" out of the way relatively early, preferring to perform cuts from the overlooked 1999 opus "The Fragile," a few obscurities ("Suck," a song Reznor co-wrote for the industrial band Pigface), and several numbers from the 2005 album "With Teeth."

Backed by a solid, four-piece touring band Reznor, as always, was a compelling, menacing presence on stage, performing new and old songs with equal ferocity. And no, he hasn't gotten any happier over the years.

The older material has aged remarkably well. Maybe that's because so much of what's been on rock radio in the past decade has either been influenced by the NIN aesthetic or has stolen it wholesale.

That aesthetic -- pummeling percussion, searing guitars and keyboards, shout-along choruses and angst aplenty -- made for a thrilling show. Equal credit goes to the visual presentation, a dizzying spectacle of pulsating strobe lights, gloomy atmospherics and not very comforting video footage.

Mid-show, a scrim dropped to cover the stage and, as the band explored some melodic corners of its catalog, a projector showed juxtaposed images of war and creepy domestic serenity.

A projected clip of George W. and Laura Bush dancing at a black-tie event generated a big yell from the near-sellout crowd of about 5,000. Whether it was a cheer or a boo was unclear, but I'm assuming boo. Whatever your opinion of the president, it's worth noting he's provided an impetus for a lot of otherwise introspective artists to turn their intensity outward.

And Reznor's as introspective as they come. No one will ever accuse him of being a great lyricist, as he leans pretty heavily on nebulous, overwrought rhyming couplets, but it all somehow works as a package. The anger, the noise, the visuals, the catharsis, all melting into a seething stew of rage.

Obviously, I'd like to have seen how the show would've ended, but what we got was outstanding.

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