After 10 years on the alternative scene, Trent Reznor has yet to exorcise the demons that helped him define the industrial rock genre. That's not necessarily a bad thing. The problem is that he's now trapped by the same style that initially put him on the disgruntled youth map. And for an artist whose career has always been about taking chances, this is a mortal sin. Redundancy reared its ugly head on NIN's third studio album, the double disc The Fragile. Top to bottom, the grandiose CD, which was five years in the making, is unfocused, self-indulgent, and banal. The same could be said about NIN's Fragility v2.0 tour. The only unique aspect of the first date of the tour (which runs through June) was the opening track, "Somewhat Damaged," which found the band hidden behind a black curtain, with only a barrage of strobe lights providing silhouettes of the group. Quite possibly the highlight of the evening, the song's industrial effects, grinding guitars, and choppy beats pumped up the crowd. But once the curtain came down, revealing the black-clad group, Reznor delivered his rage in a calculated manner.
Unlike past shows, where the intensity and emotions ran high, there was never any direct connection with the audience and the fury of Reznor's music. Kicking over a speaker and throwing bottled water on the crowd appeared choreographed. The set list, which featured close to 10 new tracks, was littered with milepost signs signaling different stages of Reznor's rage. The primal Pretty Hate Machine material ("Terrible Lie," "Head Like a Hole") festered alongside the seething Downward Spiral tracks ("March of the Pigs," "Closer"). New tunes such as "Starfucker, Inc.," "The Wretched," and "The Big Come Down" were delivered with a similar harrowing style and industrial/synthesizer sound, yet weren't as concise as the music on NIN's definitive debut disc or as intelligent as its follow-up. Interestingly, "Closer," with its once controversial lyrics "I want to fuck you like an animal," found Reznor and company going through the motions. Despite the less than stellar delivery, the hometown crowd sang along in defiance anyway. The selection of "Hurt" to end the show was obviously designed to provide much needed closure for this 90-plus-minute evening of despair, but it only deflated the energy of the show even further. Apparently, expectations for Reznor in the new millennium were too high -- maybe he'll be better off producing others, instead of pretending to break new ground with his own career.
A Perfect Circle, featuring singer and Ravenna native Maynard James Keenan of Tool, opened the gig with a prog-rock display that left the audience questioning why it came early. Without wailing guitars and the hard rock stylings of Tool, Keenan sounded lost and unfocused.