Who We Used To Be
By ADAM BESENYODI
Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor is a folk hero in these parts. A musician friend
of mine recently observed, "Everybody in
have seen Nine Inch Nails in concert more times than I can count, and all of
them at assorted hole-in-the-wall
And when Bauhaus strolled on stage amid fog machines and white light for their hour-long set, I knew I had made the right decision. It was strange to see the founders of the goth movement playing while the sun was still up. The rains and humidity had created real fog just off to the left of the amphitheater stage, carrying the theatrics into the crowd of goth girls in black prom dresses and punks who weren't around when Bauhaus originally formed. We were close enough to the stage to see the band well, but far enough away to preserve my original images of the band in their heyday.
like "Double Dare", "In the Flat Field", "Rosegarden
Funeral of Sores", and the one-two closers "Stigmata Martyr" and
"Dark Entries" all sounded as fresh as they do on 1982's live effort,
Press the Eject and Give Me the Tape. Thoughts of an album of new
material danced through the heads of the faithful as the new tunes, "Adrenaline"
and "Endless Summer of the Damned", were unveiled -- although the
latter was slight on substance and long on cliché (as evidenced by the title),
even for these guys.
The sibling rhythm section of Kevin Haskins and David J carried the show, and you could feel the muscular beats pulsing in your chest. Peter Murphy's singing was spot on, and he sounded every bit the English gentleman, even as he bitched out the lighting people from the stage -- pointing out the differences between left and right and telling them not to fuck it up again. Daniel Ash, sporting a white shag carpet vest and oversized bug-eye sunglasses, was the consummate glam rock guitarist. And his on-stage shtick was the same as it was 25 years ago -- stalking the stage, playing guitar on his knees, and punctuating songs with his saxophone skronk.
Bauhaus' set, the rains stopped and the temperature dropped. Blossom's
lawn took on mudslide qualities and visions of Reznor's infamous Woodstock
appearance were replaying in my mind. Although the mosh pit in front of
the stage was complemented nicely by a mud pit at the base of the sloping lawn,
a recreation of the literal mud-slinging of that '94 incident never
materialized here. Shortly after sunset, the house lights dimmed, and the
deafening roar of the crowd was supplanted by the slow build of "Somewhat
Damaged" -- the first of five songs off of 1999's The Fragile. (The
song selection was the most curious aspect of the show. Apart from the
new song, "Non Entity", the band only played three songs off of the
support album, With Teeth, and three off of the critical and popular
darling, The Downward Spiral. Four songs each were played off of Pretty
Hate Machine and the stop-gap Broken EP.)
Hearing songs that I had never previously experienced live was a treat. The folding cage of lights that was lowered and raised throughout the show was partially down during "Closer" -- where the center section slowly "filled" with red Matrix-style dashes and blips of light, but it was the funky workout of Broken's "Suck" towards the end of the set that really stood out. The touring band, which includes Jordie White (formerly Twiggy Ramirez of Marilyn Manson's band) and Josh Freese (who has played with Akron, Ohio's Devo), allowed the song to retain its aggressive nature while stretching and breathing in a groove.
While "Hurt" was an expected showstopper, it exceeded expectations. Reznor was exposed, alone on keyboards, and it was as intimate as any of the 100-listener shows I saw him perform almost two decades ago. Something about the ringing piano and Reznor's melodies never seem quite right, they always seem broken -- musically, emotionally. Although the song isn't a sing-along, per se, the crowd made it one in the most reverential of ways and as the band came in at the end for a beautiful slow burn, there was nothing left but passion.
the new songs, "Only" could be the next "Down In It".
From its emphasis on synthesizers to Reznor's more-rapping-than-singing
approach to the "tiniest little dot" lyrical reference, the song is a
throwback to the Pretty Hate Machine material.
got arena-rock clichéd, though, during the chorus, when too-clever lighting
took the focus off the band and put it on the crowd during "There is no
you" and reversed the effect during the "There is only me"
lines. The clap-along to "The Hand that Feeds" also treaded the
cliché, but that is today's Nine Inch Nails -- including a Reznor who has
transformed himself from skinny kid into Henry Rollins' little brother,
complete with 'roid-y muscles, sleeveless shirts, and a buzz cut.
Although I understand what Reznor has done with his music (and image, for that matter), I have had a love/hate relationship with him since the early days, when he wrote the soundtrack for my life and then turned around and marketed it to frat boys. And "The Hand that Feeds" almost seems like an acknowledgement, an apology for it -- "What if the whole crusade's a charade / And behind it all there's a price to be paid... Just how deep do you believe? / Will you bite the hand that feeds?... Are you brave enough to see it? / Do you want to change it?" -- wrapped in a neat industrial-pop package, of course.
night, it was the Pretty Hate Machine cuts that were the most
amazing. I had forgotten how powerful these songs are when played
live. The synths of "Something I Can Never Have" were mixed
behind the chest-rumbling bass and stripped-bare vocals, complete with a cough
by Reznor that made it all the more real. Synths poked through the guitars'
wall of sound like glass stabbing at skin on "Down In It", and the
party spun out of control during the set closing "Head Like a
Hole". Ferocious, angry, exhilarating. Hands and voices were
raised as one: "Bow down before the one you serve!" The crowd
noise was deafening as the house lights came up, the cage lowered, and the
"NIN" logo was flashed in lights on it. No need for an
Regardless of the mixed up nostalgia and confusion that accompanies growing older and watching your heroes do the same, everything about this show felt right. And between songs, Reznor summed it all up perfectly when he told the crowd, "It's good to be home. All grown up."
Adam Besenyodi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an associate music editor and music writer at PopMatters.com. An edited version of this piece was published at that site.
Banner photo of Trent Reznor by Jim Carchidi.