NIN show picketed by Phelps' followers
Student Pub. KSU Feb. 1995

While Fred Phelps' entourage protested, Nine Inch Nails sent the packed Kansas Expocentre into a downward spiral of sight and sound.

The brainchild of avant-garde rock artist Trent Reznor, NIN performed Wednesday night in Topeka. Opening was Seattle's Melvins and the Jim Rose Circus.

Melvins replaced Pop Will Eat Itself, who canceled because of illness, said Soo Hyun of Formula Public Relations. The crowd seemed to appreciate the grungy Melvins more than they probably would have liked PWEI's synth rock.

The Jim Rose Circus defies description. Simply put, Jim Rose is the "massacre of ceremonies" of, and occasional participant in, a human torture act.

Here are a few of the printable tricks.

Mark E. Ray, a guitarist who helps play the music during the circus, put down his axe to have a concrete block smashed on his chest while he lay on a bed of swords.

The tattoo-covered second half of the circus' musical duo was the Enigma. He stepped from behind the keys to swallow a sword and then bend over with it still in his gullet.

Rose's long-time cohort, the Amazing Mr. Lifto, hoisted a concrete block on a chain attached to his nipple rings while Rose chanted, "Lactate! Lactate!" and "I see milk!"

The final performer was called the Armenian Rubber Man. He pulled his body through the head of a tennis racket for the audience.

Then came NIN.

Reznor leaned into the backlit sweat-yellow scrim hiding the stage a few times before tearing it down to kick off the violent "Mr. Self Destruct," the opening cut of "The Downward Spiral" album. The crowd surged dangerously towards him.

The next song was "Sin." The guitar-driven live version sent the crowd into a tumult. Reznor wrapped himself in audio tape before pretending to rape guitarist/bassist/keyboardist Danny Lohner. The keyboard Lohner was abusing teetered before all three fell to the stage.

The next song was the "March of the Pigs." In spite of a computer glitch that put the music out of synch, the crowd went berzerk. It's amazing what airplay and MTV can do to a mosh pit.

During this song, Reznor spoke about the anti-homosexual picketers outside the arena.

"The pigs picketing outside can all go straight to hell," Reznor said before launching the song into an extended ending.

A few songs later came the highlight of the show. The most intimate piece from "The Downward Spiral," a track called "Hurt, was performed behind a projection screen. The black-and-white film shown on it explored the Zeitgeist of postmodern existence: the angst, the senseless brutality, the death.

The band launched into a few more songs before NIN destroyed its keyboards during "Down In It." They tore into "Head Like a Hole" with help from Mark E. Ray before leaving the stage.

By then, the guitar grind, the heavy strobe lighting, the violent tantrums of the band and the globs of computer-driven noise could have sated most. It was only fitting that NIN came back to perform its homage to sensory overload, "Closer."

At the song's end, Reznor mentioned the picketers again.

"My god doesn't hate fags. My god hates people like those assholes outside," Reznor said.

NIN played a few more songs then left for good.

In concert, Reznor creates a theater of noise, pain, aggression and release. The live shows are highly recommended to anyone who likes to slam it up or sit, observe and listen to something out of the ordinary