It's 5.30 on a Monday afternoon and it feels far too early to be rimming my eyes with kohl a la Cleopatra. Yet, on this Labour Day holiday in a surprisingly overcast Brisbane town, this is what I find myself doing in preparation for what other fans on The Spiral chat site promise will be an amazing experience. For tonight, Trent Reznor brings Nine Inch Nails to our fair city.
Nine Inch Nails. An entity instantly recognisable by the solid NIN logo or, until a few years ago, a successful recipe of industrial rock. Reznor released The Fragile and With Teeth, showing evidence of a more complex style of music composition with less emphasis on pleasing his ever-hungry fans. While With Teeth is widely considered by NIN obsessives to be Reznor's worst album (this fan excluded), there was a great deal of anticipation for the new release, Year Zero. Surrounded by a media hype of conspiracy theories and what some could sceptically call marketing genius, Year Zero eschews any superficialities when you listen to the music: Reznor at his most raw, passionate and funky. Yes, funky.
Once previously, I had experienced NIN live: at the Gold Coast Big Day Out. Not the best line-up, too many industrigoths taking themselves way too seriously, and a wasted Reznor. Although a fan since 1992, I was not impressed. So, back to this cool Monday eve, my anticipation was high.
So high, in fact, I had paid $37 to join The Spiral, the NIN fan club, for the slim chance of a meet'n'greet type scenario. The Spiral provided a glimmer of hope for an early entrance, and other special treatment at NIN gigs, as well as a meet and greet "if Trent is in the mood". It may have been helpful to a) receive my membership card before the gig or b) receive a response from any number of Spiral staff to my questions about this card and what opportunities might be offered at gigs in Australia but alas, no luck. I arrived at 6pm for a 6.30pm opening and couldn't see any signs for "Spiral Members" (then again, it was dark and I am short). Eventually I overheard someone mention an entrance for Spiral members, so I make my way to the queue, where I am told by a lovely woman who appears to know nothing about the fan club that, if I'd rocked up between 6 and 6.30, I would have received “special treatment” but, as it was 6.32pm, I could get stuffed (albeit, she was extremely pleasant about the whole thing). Long story. Cut to the chase, I bought a ticket months ago and got into the gig with said ticket.
Good crowd. Yes, there were the old goths, the younger industrigoths, curious kids and jocks. Horny pvc clad girls hoping for a chance to impress Trent in the pit, but unable to get too close because of the incompatibility of stilettos and moshpits. Unlike many other gigs I've been to, though, I got the distinct impression most people were actually there for the music. Situated on a rise, a sloping grassy knoll enabling a short-stuff like me ample viewing potential, I lie in wait.
The support band was, really, quite terrible. Trying to achieve a sound somewhere between the Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth, Serena-Maneesh's onstage experimentation didn't mesh for the entire gig. With possibly the worst bass player I've seen in a band afforded such an incredible opportunity in a professional arena, Serena-Maneesh simply didn't deliver. In their defence, the sound was mixed for NIN, and this mix was entirely unsuitable for what they might have been aiming. The audience was bored and disappointed and increasingly impatient for the main act to appear.
The lights dim, and the audience pounces to its collective feet. Everyone is staring eagerly toward the stage, waiting to be the first to catch a glimpse of Reznor. The band stalks onstage, a pack of hungry wolves set to tear it up. The gig begins with the strains of Year Zero's “Hyperpower”, morphing into the pounding "The Beginning of the End". From thereon, I can't recall specific songs or the order of the play list. I was having too much fun to be that anal!
The vibe was energetic, powerful, intense and passionate without a morose or self-indulgent element. Reznor's decision to ditch the drugs and delve into the world around him has resulted in, not only an incredibly intelligent and thought-provoking album, but a far better live performance. Reznor's vocals resonated through the park, making the hairs on my arms spike. The Botticelli beauty of keyboardist / guitarist / noise maker, Alessandro Cortini, hovered above Jeordie White (former Marilyn Manson bass player, known then as Twiggy Ramirez). The insanely hepped drum cat Josh Freese (formerly with A Perfect Circle and those flower pot men, Devo) was a fantastic Gatorade advertisement, and the mischievous Pan of guitar, Aaron North, made a running track of the stage. Reznor, sporting short hair and toned physique, looked happy to be here, and his energetic demeanour continued throughout the show. Only when he sang “Hurt”, accompanied by his piano, could I hear a slight strain in his voice, although this was toward the end of the gig and added to the sentiment of the piece. And frankly, who needs to sing when thousands of people are doing it for you?
Ah wait, it's coming back now! I do recall the following songs were played, through memories of my ground stomping, arse bumping and head shaking: Hyperpower!, The Beginning of the End, Suck, Gave Up, Wish, La Mer, Survivalism, No you Don't, Big Come Down, Burn, Down In It, Head like a Hole, Closer, Hand that Feeds. I wish they'd played more songs from Year Zero, and less dinosaurs like “Closer”, but such is life.
Additionally, NIN made it rain in drought-stricken Brisbane. As the crowd delighted in the rare droplets caressing their skin, Jeordie sang, "Rain rain go away" (from “Down In It”), and we collectively hoped the rain god didn't hear him. Maybe Trent should move to Australia, to break the drought, as I recall it rained that Big Day Out as well as soon as NIN took to the stage.
What an incredible gig. As a reviewer, I get to experience gigs fairly frequently and, sometimes, the evening doesn't pay off and resembles Chinese water torture. Sadly, The Dwarf wasn't given the opportunity to review the one Brisbane gig (why only one gig in Brisbane and three in Melbourne?), so I had to part with my hard-earned cash for the pleasure. But a pleasure it was. When you arrive home with poetry and stories on your lips, a song in your heart, motivation to finally get those new guitar strings and learn to PLAY...that's evidence of a GREAT gig.
NIN shines, even in the darkness. Thanks for coming to town, boys.
This review was also contributed to The Dwarf.