Reznor convincing as ever in tortured artist role
Cleveland Plain Dealer April 2000

By JOHN SOEDER - Thursday, April 13, 2000

Welcome back to Trent Reznor's nightmare.

The ex-Clevelander rebooted his music-making pretty hate machine, Nine Inch Nails, last night at the Cleveland State University Convocation Center. It was the first stop on the first North American tour since 1995 for the industrial-rock band, assembled here by Reznor in the late '80s.

All systems were go as the show commenced with an anonymous rendition of "Somewhat Damaged," an ominous selection from NIN's new double album "The Fragile." The group performed the entire song from behind a black curtain, back lit with white lights that flashed while what sounded like 100 electric typewriters tapped away in the background.

"Lick around divine debris / Taste the wealth of hate in me," sang a disembodied yet familiar voice.

"Terrible Lie" brought the first glimpse of Reznor, 34, who was dressed in dusty gray fatigues and clunky Frankenstein boots. Demanding an apology from heaven, he leaned hard against his microphone stand.

In the studio, Reznor is essentially a one-man band. In concert, he was expertly backed by drummer Jerome Dillon, bassist Danny Lohner, keyboardist Charlie Clouser and sometime Guns n' Roses guitarist Robin Finck.

For his part, Reznor was convincing as ever in the starring role of tortured artist. Most numbers found him singing - no, make that primal screaming - about variations on a down-and-out theme, namely: Life is a bowl of clockwork oranges, not cherries. He frequently referred to his emotional turmoil in mechanical terms. He rhymed "hole" with "soul" on more than one occasion, too.

"This is what it feels like," Reznor howled during another new tune, "The Wretched." Apparently, "it" feels like the parasitic extraterrestrial in the sci-fi film "Alien" is about to bust out of your belly.

Fans pogo-danced furiously along to a frenetic version of "March of the Pigs," complete with the ironic punchline: "Now doesn't that make you feel better?" Equally intense was the techno two-step "Gave Up."

When Reznor wasn't making the audience feel his pain, he repeatedly tried to electrocute Finck by dousing him with water. He also sent a steady supply of water bottles flying into the crowd.

Shifting gears, Reznor stepped behind a keyboard halfway through the performance to play "La Mer," a pretty, piano-based instrumental accompanied by images of rippling water on three rectangular video monitors.

The opening act, A Perfect Circle, was led by Maynard James Keenan, a Ravenna native who also fronts the alternative-metal act Tool.

A preview of material from Keenan's new five-piece side project's forthcoming debut, "Mer De Noms," was more melodic than typical Tool fare, with chorus-drenched guitars a la the Cure and lilting rhythms that made for minimal motion in the mosh pit. Fans were either conserving their energy for NIN or they were bored stiff.