Nine Inch Nails go the whole 9 yards. - Tokyo Bay NK Hall, January 11

By Bill Bradley for The Daily Yomiuro on January 1, 2000

If someone were to fashion a guitar out of barbed wire, lead pipes and an acetylene blowtorch, Trent Reznor would be the man to play it--with a razor blade pick. He'd probably get some decent sounds out of it, too. Reznor, and his band, Nine Inch Nails, followed their long and whining road of macabre discontent to Japan last week for three high-energy shows.

After a decade of touring together, the members of NIN have learned how to pull a scorching performance out of Reznor's dark, twisted orchestrations of pain and introspection. With the requisite smoke machines, retina-burning lasers and trippy visuals, they stomped and slammed through nearly two hours of old and new material for a enthusiastic crowd.

Reznor is the angst-ridden man and creative force behind Nine Inch Nails, the industrial rock band that 10 years ago made it OK to be goth, or so the black-clad, mascaraed masses that screamed along with NIN's 1989 debut Pretty Hate Machine would tell you.

In the studio, Reznor is NIN. He writes, arranges, performs and produces all the material for the band's albums, employing other musicians only for his road show. They toured extensively in support of Pretty Hate Machine, a three-year odyssey that saw them on stage for the first Lollapalooza tour and opening for Guns 'n' Roses in Europe.

The band is currently touring in support of last year's The Fragile, a double album filled with the changes one would expect of a man who hadn't released anything new in five years. Reznor's last offering was 1995's Further Down the Spiral, a collection of remixes from the 1994 release The Downward Spiral. Perky titles, aren't they?

Like his prodigy Marilyn Manson (Reznor was instrumental in Manson's rise to fame and coproduced Antichrist Superstar, the album that made Mason), Reznor is a product of small-town America. He was raised by his grandmother in Mercer, Pa., after his parents separated. As a teen, he traded in the classical piano he had studied as a child for basically every instrument that's ever been plugged into a power source and started playing in various garage bands.

He tried college for a year, but it didn't stick, so he moved to Cleveland, Ohio, and began recording his own music. A demo tape led to a deal with a small label, which led to Pretty Hate Machine, which led to the industrial music revolution on college campuses in the early '90s and a rapid rise to mega-stardom that took its toll on Reznor.

Of course, Reznor invited much of the scrutiny himself. He was investigated for the "Down in It" video, which the FBI suspected contained images that had been taken from a snuff film. He released an EP, Broken, in 1992, and one of the accompanying videos portrayed a man being sexually assaulted and ground into hamburger meat. And those are the videos that weren't rejected by MTV.

But that was all 10 years ago and Reznor, now 34, has mellowed with age, if only slightly. He told the crowd in Tokyo last week before the start of his encore, "I feel I may be ruining my image by saying this, but it's been a pleasure to be here. You've been a great audience. Now don't tell anyone I said that."

He even went so far as to thank his bandmates for their friendship and for being "the best band in the world," genuine niceties, even if overstated. Maybe the irony of venting his somber visions of the world in an auditorium located right next to Disneyland injected him with a little bit of Magic Kingdom sappiness.

The concert consisted mostly of NIN's newer material--broad, sometimes minimalist songs culled from The Fragile. Reznor spent two years making the new album, and it shows. The lyrics, although again darkly introspective, are more gently crafted than before. The songs still force their way into your head, but once there, instead of hammering away at the inside of your skull like NIN's previous releases, they settle down to reveal the intricate arrangements Reznor spent so long assembling in the studio.

This doesn't always translate well in the live show, though. The band went to great lengths to make sure even the slower songs were still noisy enough to please the most dissatisfied of fans. But when relatively gentle keyboard tracks were forced through various chorus effects and distortion pedals, they often came out sounding more like whale mating songs played full blast through an AM radio with blown speakers. Painful.

But more often than not, Nine Inch Nails did what they were supposed to do: lay down stomach-churning industrial rock for the fans to slam to and Reznor to scream to. The highlight of the night was "Head Like a Hole," a song from Pretty Hate Machine that became an anthem of sorts for millions of rebels without a cause with its middle-finger-up chorus "Head like a hole/Black as your soul/I'd rather die/Than give you control."

And 10 years on, Reznor still screams it like he means it.

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

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