Brixton Academy, London SW9

By ANN SCANLON for The Times (United Kingdom) on December 1, 1999

IT IS now ten years since Nine Inch Nails recorded Pretty Hate Machine, a dark, introspective debut album that was written, played and co-produced by the one-man band of Trent Reznor. It spawned the hit single Head Like a Hole, which took Nine Inch Nails into the mainstream and gave Reznor the leverage to co-found his own label, Nothing Records - whose signings include Marilyn Manson, with whom he has worked closely - and subsequently become one of the most influential figures on the US music scene.

In recent years, Reznor has taken time off from Nine Inch Nails to write film scores for Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers and David Lynch's Lost Highway, and to collaborate with one of his heroes, David Bowie.

But following the release of the band's third full-length studio album, The Fragile, in September, Reznor is back on the road for a European tour, culminating in two sold-out shows at Brixton Academy.

An impressive lighting rig illuminated the stage to reveal a five-piece line-up of drums, keyboards and two guitars, with Reznor alternating between vocals and additional guitar and keyboards. The set got off to a powerful start with a mixture of songs from the past and present - the dour industrial mood of the new album's The Wretched seguing into the monstrous Reptile from 1994's The Downward Spiral. It was during Reptile, followed by the intense No, You Don't, that the band were at their most visual, with Reznor draping himself over the microphone, while the rest of the lineup joined in on backing vocals and rocked out in their various positions.

Immediately afterwards, a video screen descended across the stage, obscuring the band - who continued to play on - from the crowd's view. What followed was a three-song interlude from The Fragile, beginning with La Mer, which was accompanied by black and white images of the sea, followed by The Great Below, and culminating in The Way Out Is Through, which ended with realistic flames shooting up the screen.

All three tracks were typical of the almost cinematic diversity of the new album - although judging by some of the crowd's indifferent reaction, this was not the kind of music that most people come to see Nine Inch Nails for. The frenetic Wish seemed to be much more like it, suggesting that the band's appeal still lies in ultra-heavy songs with a pop sensibility. Further proof of this came with the closing Head Like A Hole, which ended with sparks flying off the keyboards.

An epic three-song encore followed, the highlight of which was Starf***ers Inc, a song from the new album widely rumoured to be about Courtney Love, with whom Reznor was once romantically linked, and which ended with the crowd singing along to the refrain from Carly Simon's You're So Vain.

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

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