Nine Inch Nails' show visually, lyrically menacing
By Nick Carter
of the Journal Sentinel
Last Updated: April 19, 2000 The pretty hate machine marches onward.

That observation might sum up the prevailing tone, style and message of mid-'90s alternative-rock kings Nine Inch Nails' tour stop Tuesday night at the US Cellular Arena.

Leader Trent Reznor led his sometimes band, and sometimes mere songwriting vessel through a visually and lyrically menacing show; the material came from his latest album, a two-disc angst odyssey titled "The Fragile," and from self-annihilating ditties off the earlier NIN albums "Pretty Hate Machine" and "The Downward Spiral."

The show began with Reznor and the current Nine Inch Nails lineup of bassist Danny Lohner, Keyboardist Charlie Clouser, drummer Jerome Dillon and occasional Guns n' Roses six-stringer Robin Finck, playing from behind a curtain, pounding out a new industrial-stomp titled "Somewhat Damaged."

The first the 6,000 or so crowd members saw of the 35-year-old Reznor and his band came during the next dirge, "Terrible Lie," which had the shrill-voiced NIN master screaming through a litany of personal outrages, combatively attired in fatigue-patterned wear and battle boots.

Most of the numbers, in fact, had Reznor alternately shouting or whining his way through songs driven by fiercely self-absorbed themes, with either angry or depressive lyrics matching the nihilistic apathy of titles such as "The Wretched," and the mope-rock classic "March of the Pigs."

Between songs, Reznor pouted, shouted and grudgingly acknowledged the approving roar of the crowd. In response to the thundering applause after one number, Reznor shouted, "Thank you very much you [expletive] pigs!"

And while NIN's peak was more than five years ago, the vast majority of Tuesday night's crowd was in its teens and early 20s. "NIN's the only thing I can relate to in this day of the Backstreet Boys," said one Greenfield High School junior whose name I couldn't confidently make out above the din on the main floor.

One of the more entrancing moments came during NIN's take of a track titled "La Mer," which had Reznor fingering a pretty piano arpeggio while three tall and narrow projection screens lit up behind the stage, yielding color-drenched images of trickling waterfalls and other natural-environment phenomena.

Openers A Perfect Circle, fronted by Tool member Maynard James Keenan, relied equally on industrial-strength drum machine loops and cryptically moody synth samples. But atop their dreary core came minor-key guitar chording and phrasings that lent the numbers a gothicky, almost romantic touch. Most were from the band's highly touted forthcoming debut album, "Mer De Noms."