So the big question Nine Inch Nails acolytes might be asking themselves is whether a cleaned up, happier, and oddly meatier Trent Reznor still puts out a good live show after five years off the concert circuit. The answer is a bona-fide yes.
On Wednesday night, I caught Nine Inch Nails at the Warfield. While the familiar stage elements were there (every member of the band resembles Trent Reznor; the live band goes out of its way to “adapt” each computer-generated song into a live set piece using real instruments, unlike certain bald Vegan assclowns who think that running up and down like a hamster with a sequenced beat is a live performance) and despite my reservations about the mixed new album, With Teeth, Reznor not only seemed to be having fun, but he actually cracked several smiles and threw several bottles of water into the crowd — at one point confessing how much fun it was to “break shit.”
Yet despite this jollier presence, Reznor demonstrated yet again that he’s one of pop music’s first-class growlers. Reznor performed for nearly 100 minutes straight without interruption and with terse commentary to the crowd. If anything, the angst in “Terrible Lie,” “Starfuckers, Inc.” and “Hurt” felt more nuanced and pointed, the mark of a man channeling the remnants of his anger into a high-octane purge. I got the sense that live shows function for Reznor in much the same way that a daily five-mile jog does for others.
My view of Reznor was occluded by a 6’5″ thirtysomething guy continually shouting “Come on, Trent!” while failing to shake his body in time. But no matter. From what I saw, Reznor exuded raw physicality. He wrestled his mike stand as if it were a mad demon that he was determined to conquer. Midway through a song, he would head upstage to a black expanse, only to return with raw and redoubled ferality. It helped immensely that his bassist and guitarist flopped onto the dais like fish at a steady rate of one flop per 2.5 songs. That’s dedication.
Perhaps the strangest element of the show was the audience. Because Nine Inch Nail’s followers had aged with Reznor, there wasn’t really a mosh pit to speak of — just a handful of guys who tried to stir things up, only to feel the steady advance of creaking knees just before stopping and trying again. It was the kind of demographic that a money man would kill for. Nine Inch Nails attracted a steady mix of people, 18-40. Casual listeners and bodiced goths alike sung and jumped along. And Reznor, to his great credit, didn’t unload too many of the standards. At least not until the very end.
But the oddest element was the marijuana use. Wafts of blue smoke trickled through the crowd, and I’m pretty sure that the second-hand smoke was what caused me to daze into the lights and the DF50 diffusion midway through the show. At one point, I’m certain I saw God. More importantly, it was curious to me how anyone could find Reznor’s music mellow. I’d expect people to 420 at a Phish or Primus show. Or even a Korn show. But Nine Inch Nails? I suppose with enough familiarity with the music, anything’s fair game.