Live Review

Nine Inch Nails @ Winnipeg

By Jeff Franzmann

Nine Inch NailsFor the first time in living memory, Nine Inch Nails arrived to play in Winnipeg. To give folks an idea of how this event has been anticipated in my life, a quick scan of the crowd revealed that I was listening to Pretty Hate Machine when the majority of the crowd was listening to Barney.

For those living beneath small ornamental stones or trapped inside World of Warcraft, Nine Inch Nails is currently touring in support of their latest album release, With Teeth. For their Winnipeg show, they were preceded on stage by Death from Above 1979 and Queens of the Stone Age.

Let me get the unfortunate out of the way first. Music is perhaps one of the few artistic pursuits in the world that can put on stage people who were best confined to their parents basements and garages, their gifts shared not with the world but neighbourhood pets and friends from class. Death from Above 1979 didn't suck in the traditional sense of making one wish for a Helen Keller level of sensory deprivation, but rather in the way that you wanted it all to end so you could get what you came for. Every song of their set merged into the next, making me wonder if it wasn't just one ongoing experimental piece of grindcore EBM. Nothing horrible, but nothing special. One distracting aspect of this duo was the fact that at times, the vocals reminded me of Jason Newstead era Flotsam and Jetsam. At one point I drifted back to a point when I was listening to Doomsday and thinking it wasn't actually that bad. Then I came down from the high and realized it wasn't that good either.

Next up was Queens of the Stone Age, with a more respectable and energetic set. I'm not a huge fan of their music, to be perfectly honest, but for what they do it's well executed and well played. They seemed to lack a little of their usual enthusiasm, though, and were clearly put off by the security staff at MTS Centre. I can't blame them for that either. Security at the Centre is well known for their over enthusiastic attempts to keep people from so much as blinking out of time with the music. Trying to stop a mosh pit for Nine Inch Nails’ opening band is a lot like trying to stick a cork in a bottle of newly opened champagne. Completely missing the point and futile at the same time. It was a solid enough set, but they didn't stay longer than their allotted time, and I can't say I was sorry when it was over.

Right from the outset, I knew it was going to be an outstanding show. A sheer black curtain was in front of the stage, and as they started playing Pinion it didn't move. The band was illuminated from behind, their silhouettes visible behind the curtain as shadows and nothing more. The curtain rose only when they broke into Love is Not Enough, and it was apparent that even though he's 40 he's still got plenty of enthusiasm and vigor. He isn't that somewhat emaciated goth boy of 1989, however. The salt laden tears of a thousand and one former goth chicks from the early 90s are no doubt flowing, but what can I do but report the truth as I see it?

Terrible Lie followed, and it appeared as if the band were still trying to slip into gear. I won't say they weren't enthusiastic or energetic, or that the crowd wasn't fully into things, because those would be lies worthy of the Bush Regime. They seemed a little off though. I am pleased to report that with The Line Begins to Blur things picked up, and by March of the Pigs, I was back in the days of crowds at Seattle's Catwalk, The Crypt in Winnipeg, and other moments of my youth that will never again occur but are fond memories nonetheless.

An incredible rendition of Something I Can Never Have, the Frail, the Wretched, started to blur together, in that good way when you get caught up in the music in a concert and have trouble focusing on exactly what came before the song you're listening to now.

When they launched into Eraser, that sheer curtain was down again and a movie montage was played over the music. I have to say, it was one of the most well put together series of images for that song that I could possibly have thought of. In fact, at one point, the crowd was literally struck silent with the stream of imagery. It was the music, the images and otherwise complete and utter silence. In that profound way.

Following Eraser, Right Where it Belongs, With Teeth, and then a personal favourite of mine, Wish. I'll confess, after 1997 my interest in Nine Inch Nails waned. While still a fan, I felt that the Perfect Drug and followup material was missing some of the earlier kick and emotion. I still hold up Sin as the penultimate in what Trent Reznor is capable of.

At one point, Trent addressed the crowd, asking if he'd ever been to Winnipeg, he couldn't remember because he was drunk (I have to admire a guy who can poke fun at his addictions). He appreciated the reception and gave the crowd a treat at this point, playing Deep, something not often performed in concert.

The encore consisted of Suck, a rendition of Hurt that had the entire arena singing along to my minor annoyance and vexation, then The Hand that Feeds and closing with Head Like a Hole.

Altogether an outstanding concert. The MTS Centre in Winnipeg is a brand new arena, completed this year, so the acoustics were state of the art and there literally isn't a bad seat in the house. This really catered to the strengths of Nine Inch Nails, the emotion with which Trent infuses his lyrics and the heavy emphasis on electronics underlying the music.

Got to give it Jeff-boy's seal of approval.