Nine Inch Nails Spread Theatrics On Thick in Chicago

Reznor and Co. impress the UIC Pavilion

Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails Credit: Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

UIC Pavilion
April 21st, 2000
Chicago, IL

Desperation is never far behind Trent Reznor, even when he dips outside the Nine Inch Nails songbook. "How does it feeeel?" Reznor screamed during the chorus of a decade-old Pigface song. "Suck! Suck! Suck!" came his band's response.

Nine Inch Nails still pound spikes of doom with the best of the aggro bands, but this night found Reznor exploring the more vulnerable side of his psyche as well. While "Head Like a Hole" and "Starfuckers, Inc." (dedicated not so cryptically to "an ex-friend") danced the machine-metal jig, even more impressive was how the quintet dared to chase a quieter brand of catharsis. Delicate mood pieces such as "The Frail," with Reznor in Brian Eno mode at the keyboards, broke up the siege, and a melancholy instrumental, "La Mer," bled into the majestic elegy "The Great Below."

It was great theater, with Reznor and company dressed like post-apocalyptic marauders and bathed in dramatic white lighting, codesigned by Pink Floyd collaborator Mark Brickman. The band blurred distinctions between "real" instruments and electronoise; Robin Finck conjured what sounded like radio static and brittle harpsichords from his guitar, while Danny Lohner and Charlie Clouser extracted little symphonies for the misbegotten from their keyboards. Drummer Jerome Dillon made it all sound almost funky, particularly the coda to "Closer"; his tom-heavy backdrop turned the relatively hushed "Hurt" into a devastating finale. Reznor wore his vulnerability with conviction: "If I could start again . . . I would find a way." Just goes to show, trench-coat nihilists have feelings too.

This story is from the June 8th, 2000 issue of Rolling Stone.