Nine Inch Nails
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- Nine Inch Nails »
16 years ago his Pretty Hate Machine rolled out from the studio and into the world's eyes; now, in the cavernous Academy, every inch of floor space occupied by top-to-toe-in-black acolytes ready to sing the angst-thems of their youth right back at him, Trent Reznor's Nine Inch Nails will squeeze as many highlights and low points of their career so far into two hours of London time. Some will laugh. Some will cry. Some will wonder if wearing their Mildly Offensive T-shirt in their mid-thirties is an entirely sensible idea, however ridiculous the cybergoth-ed up kids about them look.
Plus! Introducing, for one night only, North Watch - like Spring Watch, only with no Bill Oddie and more flailing of limbs. Former Icarus Line guitar slinger Aaron North is hardly known for his on-stage subtlety; let's see how he fares when facing off against the megasized ego of Reznor. Game on...
Night two of four at Brixton sees Reznor and company playing to a packed house - so close are shoulders to shoulders down the front that it's akin to looking over a sea of paint-stained oil, the epic black peppered by the occasional streak of blonde or vivid red. This, of course, is a given; what's not is the set, which we're informed beforehand will differ from night to night. This evening's opening gambit is a sinister 'The Wretched', from 1999's creative high watermark release The Fragile. While it's far from well known among those whose Nine Inch Nails experience extends only to the irregular rock club encounter and time spent in student halls of residence (your reviewer, for example), the song nevertheless comprises a decent representation of what's to come - it's a little brooding, somewhat bolshy and very bloody.
_North Watch: It takes only a handful of songs for North to upstage the central figure in all of this. While Reznor remains relatively static, North's raging twitching and uncontrollable urge to collide guitar with amplifier is compellingly watchable. _
Progress with Nine Inch Nails is a slow and steady evolution - five years between albums one, two and three respectively, and six between The Fragile and this year's With Teeth is hardly evidence of a core creative force set to overdrive. Still, when the latter's title track is aired, one can't help but feel disappointed with a song that could, in fairness, have been penned at any point over the last 16 years. Its blandness is the dogshit on the cake of cliché. Better is the new album's lead single, 'The Hand That Feeds', inciting the closest thing we've seen to moshing thus far. Bodies writhe and contort in time to both the rampant pop-rock music, given a slight industrial sheen of course, and to North's now disturbingly frequent guitar wrestling.
North Watch: We're starting to fear that the man's losing it altogether. His backing vocals are gruffly violent, and his performance emphasis seems to have switched absolutely from an aural to a visual angle. He leaps from stage left to stage right, casting long shadows up and down the tall sides of this spacious venue. Reznor curls into a semi-foetal, semi-pained posture, almost ignoring his bandmate entirely. He 'plays' his guitar as if it's a serpent attempting to strangle him, persistently chucking it away from his body only for its strap to snap it right back into his grasp.
And then it's "I'm sorry, you want to _what me like an animal?"_ 'Closer' was always going to be the sing-along-with-Trent centerpiece of the set, and it proves to be little more. A request for handclaps leaves a foul taste in a mouth already soiled by too many sound-alike numbers so far - call these ears clogged be you fond of black attire and owner of a multitude of cash-in remix albums, but the grey matter between them can't quite suss how so many reasonably intelligent adults can find such poignancy in insufferably drab lyrics and such kinetic influence in music that rarely switches from stutter to stomp long enough for the quick-fingered lighting technician to adjust their impressive sequences. 'Hurt' is another pre-performance certainty, and while delivered with all the drama of an accomplished old-hand and lapped up by his adoring affiliates, the song has lost some of its emotional resonance courtesy of that Cash cover; all in all, tonight's entire show is astutely professional but its lead protagonists largely lack any discernible soul. After what feel like an eternity spent watching white lights dazzle during the upbeat numbers and purple ones hypnotize throughout the otherwise dour knuckledraggers, and with feet tiring and brains bludgeoned into a comatose state of sludgy indifference, it's time to depart. Just time for one more...
North Watch: Well, he's made it, two arms and two legs intact, 'though where his head was for most of it, only he knows. Preferred him in The Icarus Line, mind - at least then his antics made sense...
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