Nine Inch Nails ...""Plays with Passion"
6/7/00 San Francisco.

......It was a long winter for Trent Reznor - more than two years holed up in his New Orleans studio, a former funeral parlor, crafting the follow-up to Nine Inch Nails' magnum opus, "The Downward Spiral." Not that he was uncomfortable there. Reznor is the quintessential creative loner, an artist who plumbs the depths of his psyche and drags out all the messiness he finds there.
But the man who made industrial music palatable for the masses - detonating classic pop hooks with three-ton explosives - is on the concert trail. Upon its release in September, "The Fragile" fetched mixed reviews from critics and fans; at two discs and 23 tracks, the incessantly layered, wildly lurching album was tough to digest. The five-year gap between Nine Inch Nails albums wasn't merely a product of the artist's legendary perfectionism Expanding his one-man outfit to a ferocious five-piece ensemble, Reznor and company made their first San Francisco appearance in nearly five years. Featuring state-of-the-art lighting courtesy of designer Marc Brickman, the same guy who lit Pink Floyd's "The Wall" show, the group's 100-minute show was a visual as well as a sonicly dazzling wonder. This was not just a concert, this was performance art. Reznor has assembled what may be his best version of the Nails yet -- at least onstage. Guitarist Robin Finck was a particular standout, able to adapt his playing to any mood associated with Reznor's eclectically stylized catalog of songs. With a name like Nine Inch Nails, certain standards of pain, loathing and disgust must be maintained. And for years, Trent Reznor and his touring band of assassins have been reliably driving spikes of wrath into impressionable young psyches. But the seething contempt for everything that moves, it turns out, is a shield for far deeper emotions; when Reznor let his audience look behind his armor plating over Wednesday night at the Cow Palace, the view was startling. Reznor showed why he's still rock's reigning Mr. Not-Happy as he railed against demons real, imagined, personal, professional, and some likely a little of all of the above. Like a human pinball in his own personal mosh pit, Reznor bounced literally and musically off drummer Jerome Dillon, keyboardist Charlie Clouser and guitarist/keyboardist Robin Finck and Danny Lohner as they brought NIN's savagely sublime symphonies to percolating, percussive life. While there are plenty of post-punk thrashers out there working the aggro-rock circuit, few fashion together sonic sculptures as compelling as NIN. Putting as much effort into one song as most bands do in an entire set, it's no wonder Reznor takes sabbaticals between tours and recordings, as all that onstage raging must take a massive physical and mental toll. Amazingly, the group sustained a blistering intensity throughout its set, slowing down only for a meandering middle section that provided a semicalm eye to the NIN storm. As to be expected, such older tunes as the discordant selections "Closer" and "Head Like a Hole" left the most lasting marks, but newer songs connected as well, especially the bitter, profanity-laden "Star ... Inc." They weren't just pushing the new product, they were creating a living, breathing musical novel, the songs fit that seamlessly. And really, maybe the most remarkable aspect of Wednesday night's show was how Nine Inch Nails, a group famed for their articulate expressions of angst and loneliness that could leave a full house wandering out into the rain smiling as though they had just seen a show to be remember always.

By Randy Cohen