Nine Inch Nails – review

Scala, London
Techno-goth Trent Reznor prowled like Predator but stayed remarkably human in NIN's warm-up for Reading and Leeds

Trent Reznor rarely does low-key. Before splitting Nine Inch Nails in 2009, his arena tours with the industrial pain-splayers were technologically dazzling. Transparent screens across the front of the stage would frame the band in apocalyptic cityscapes or drench them in static as they plundered hour-long concept albums about dystopian futures (2007's Year Zero) and imploding rock stars (1994's 5m-selling The Downward Spiral). Intimacy and proximity were rare, so it's no wonder this tiny warm-up for the reformed NIN's Reading and Leeds appearances is techno-goth catnip.

Heavy-set and clad in a black man-dress, Reznor is all fevered intensity, prowling the stage like Predator and throttling the neck of his guitar. Growling songs of faithlessness and desperation – peppered with gruesome references to the Charles Manson murders – he comes across like a gym beefcake sent over the edge by steroids. Yet his brand of tech-flecked menace is rendered remarkably human for its lack of schlock metal masks, not least on the powerful, restrained Hurt. In a genre in which machismo, aggression and singing like a lawnmower are often used as impenetrable emotional barriers, Reznor peels back his skin to let his fans feed.

For all their gut-quaking throbs, tomb-raiding moods, insidious death disco electronics and riffs like computers crashing, his songs are easy to relate to. While a cover of his David Bowie collaboration I'm Afraid of Americans marks his place as a pioneering tech-rock icon, Terrible Lie and Wish are built on glam, the frenzied Gave Up is a hoedown at heart and The Beginning of the End is essentially Blur's Song 2 being dragged through Hades in the jaws of Cerberus.

It's a crowd-pleasing night; NIN's comeback album Hesitation Marks is a minimalist middle-aged maelstrom of post-traumatic rock'n'roll survivalism but, besides Disappointed's Arabian bazaar glitches, it's ignored in favour of the somewhat jarring prospect of a clean, 48-year-old father of two bawling about animalistic sex on Closer and hissing, "I am so dirty on the inside'' on Suck. Nonetheless, a visceral close-up.

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Contributor

Mark Beaumont

The GuardianTramp

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