5.15.05: Nine Inch Nails

By David Byrne for davidbyrne.com on May 15, 2005

Went to a Nine Inch Nails concert at the Hammerstein ballroom. Musically the songs seemed a cross between The Stooges and early rock pioneer Eddie Cochran. Maybe a bit of Suicide and Throbbing Gristle too, but those may share the same roots as well. Lyrically, of course, they are new and different, and texturally miles apart as well, but the underlying songs, if you stripped away all the massive artifice, are garage rock at its finest.

The lighting was spectacular β€” probably because it was so completely appropriate and in synch with the musical aesthetic. NΓΌremberg meets Nietzsche meets tortured teenage angst. Very clean and industrial β€” tasteful in its own way. Precise, clean, detailed, rigorous.

I thought to myself (as I’ve been reading the For Dummies version) that Trent Reznor could do Thus Spoke Zarathustra as a musical β€” a meaty truly scary pop opera.

The whole band is in black, as are all the instruments and stands. Something I tried to do on the Stop Making Sense tour β€” use paint to make the gear go away visually and as a result the musicians might pop out more. I had noticed that in too many shows the brightest thing on stage was the drum hardware, for example. Nice for the drum company, but how could I redirect attention to the musicians? By painting everything black. I had the musicians and myself in medium grays β€” here they are in matte black, so only their faces loom among the darkness, smoke and strobes.

The guitar player would occasionally bound across the stage, careening off risers and cymbal stands, as if possessed by a sudden surplus of energy that had to be used up, vented. A stage tech would appear surreptitiously in his wake, putting toppled stands back in place, reconnecting cables and sorting out whatever havoc the guitarist left in his wake.

This sense of borderline chaos was, I imagine, very considered, intentional, important. It mirrors the emotional state of Trent's persona, and it makes riveting spectacle from an audience members point of view. Simulated chaos is what people are here to see and experience β€” the music is the soundtrack.

A young man sat next to me to watch the opening act, Dresden Dolls. He was a vision in black β€” a Mohawk ponytail, high leather boots with buckles at the top, back shorts, and a black vest, also with buckles. He watched in rapt polite attention, not moving. I felt underdressed next to him. Not that I should have sported similar attire, but, in his own way, his outfit was extremely formal, neat, precise, even tasteful. Much more so than my own. His outfit is an anti-military military aesthetic β€” a dark mirror image of its opposite β€” the West Point formal parade outfit, the Buckingham palace guards. His is a dark interior army, fighting a war raging inside.

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