Bowie, David and Nine Inch Nails Meadowlands, E. Rutherford, NJ 9/28/95

Originally published in MTV on September 1, 1995

The David Bowie/Nine Inch Nails tour works pretty swell on paper. After all, Trent Reznor's overblown Theatre Of Doom owes plenty to Bowie's glammed-out dramatics in the early '70s. And what is "THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL" if not the closest thing the '90s will ever come to having it's own "ZIGGY STARDUST?" Reznor and Bowie both specialize in constructing vivid worlds around the sounds they create, bloating their version of rock into euphorically massive proportions. It's just hard to grasp the logic of Bowie's decision to headline. After NIN's characteristic bludgeoning of the senses, the Thin White Duke's quiet cool seems as quaint as lighting a sparkler after an A-bomb explosion.

After Prick--a glam-and-doom outfit that mixes equal parts Trent and early Bowie--got their brief set out of the way, it felt like NIN were the headliners, at least judging by the plethora of NIN T-shirts and the total lack of any Bowie paraphernalia gracing the strictly-enforced "smoke-free" environment of the Brendan Byrne Arena. Then came the music. To say that NIN took the stage would be an understatement. Always one to savor cheap thrills, Reznor caught the audience off-guard by coming out of nowhere before the house lights blinked off, bulldozing the entire venue with a wall of white light and sound. I nearly choked on my pretzel. Combing through key album cuts ("Piggy," "Eraser") and rearranging a patch of hits ("Closer," "March Of The Pigs") like the set was its own remix EP, Reznor's goth-disco worked well onstage; in the age of the reluctant rockstar, it's kinda nice to see a natural born entertainer squeezing all the bombastic qualities out of his material in the way Bowie and his contemporaries did.

After NIN's initial assault, Trent broke out a sax and sat on a drum monitor to wail, and things got a little ambient and mellow. Then Lord Bowie breezed onstage for an initially low-key reading of the Bowie classic, "Scary Monsters" which soon broke into a more industrial, NIN-like interpretation. Although Reznor looked strangely boyish next to the elder Bowie, it was a match that was right on, musically. Watching the two trade macabre melodies on a handful of each other's tunes provided the one revelation this tour was striving for: Bowie as regal goth-rock progenitor; Reznor as black-clad keeper-of-the-glam. By the time the two duetted on "Hurt," the band had morphed from NIN to Bowie's back-up outfit. Bowie sounded great singing, "I hurt myself today to see if I still feel," but NIN would have twisted the song more wickedly than Bowie's backers did.

After Trent waved farewell, the audience settled in for some stuff that legends are made of. But Bowie was on a mission to alienate, playing a bulk of material from his newly released, "OUTSIDE." Sure, there were oldies: "Look Back In Anger," "Under Pressure," and rather obscure tracks reworked to further unrecognizability, like "Andy Warhol," "Joe The Lion," and "Teenage Wildlife." It was as if Bowie didn't keep his part of the bargain. This was a double-bill where the present joins hands with the past, where young maverick shakes hands with established icon and mentor. NIN did their part by puttin' on the hits; Bowie, on the other hand, stiffed everybody by denying the crowd his past. A wasted opportunity that, in the end, made Bowie look like an old fart.

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

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