Forget the theory that artists are locked in an Oedipal struggle to kill their creative fathers. Nirvana played with the Meat Puppets, Pearl Jam backed up Neil Young, and now Nine Inch Nails have teamed up with David Bowie. It’s apparent that this collaboration has reinvigorated both artists.
Nine Inch Nails opened to a crowd dominated by their young fans. If Reznor was weary, of touring, he didn’t show it. The introspective studio Wunderkind who once stalked the stage like a caged animal has evolved into a confident band leader, taking NIN through a relentless, exhilarating survey of his career. The group has been reimagined as a stripped-down post-punk ensemble, supplanting drum machines with two drummers and de-emphasizing synthesizers for guitars. After barreling through a set that included a ferocious version of “Terrible Lie” and a funky, cut-up take on “Closer,” the band drifted into an atmospheric instrumental as Reznor picked up a saxophone to play a surprisingly accomplished solo.
They were soon joined by Bowie for a collaboration that was the high point of the show. Bowie’s Martian lounge-singer croon vied with Reznor’s blood-curdling caterwaul as Bowie’s “Scary Monsters” segued into NIN’s “Reptile.” A blistering version of “Hallo Spaceboy” (from Bowie’s new album, Outside) followed, with three drummers pounding away furiously. Reznor and Bowie continued to trade lines on the haunting “Hurt” before NIN left the stage.
Bowie then launched into an extended set of songs from Outside. Although these dark, difficult songs are arguably his best work since the ’70s, they were unfamiliar to the audience and not immediately accessible. Moreover, in a bid to put the eager-to-please Let’s Dance era behind him, Bowie studiously avoided playing his hits in favor of more obscure songs like “Andy Warhol,” “Joe the Lion” and “Breaking Glass.” Even though “The Man Who Sold the World” was familiar because of Nirvana’s cover, Bowie’s reinterpretation of it as an elegiac tribute rendered it barely recognizable. Yet while probably few knew Jacques Brel’s “My Death,” Bowie sang the song (which he used to perform during his Ziggy Stardust days) with such gut-wrenching emotion that he had the audience cheering in spite of himself.
This story is from the November 2nd, 1995 issue of Rolling Stone.