Few artists have undergone as radical a physical transformation as Trent Reznor has. Nowhere is this better displayed than a back-to-back viewing of And All There Could Have Been, Nine Inch Nails’ document of touring under The Fragile (1999), where Reznor is a gaunt urchin, and the live DVD of the With Teeth tour, Beside You in Time, where he looks more like a UFC competitor than an icon of Goth alienation. Reznor’s physique notwithstanding, Beside You in Time is a stunningly well-orchestrated performance and DVD representation, with every edit and lighting change in lock-step with the band. It’s as theatrical as it is musical, with dramatic backgrounds, constantly evolving visual displays and Reznor-led clap-alongs (there’s something I never thought I’d see) to chestnuts like “March of the Pigs” turning the audience into participant with the oldest trick in the rock-god arsenal.
Classics such as “Head Like a Hole,” “Hurt” and “Wish” still pack a punch, and new tunes like “The Hand That Feeds” and “Only” translate well to a live setting. (Though I still can’t figure out why “Getting Smaller,” a straight-up rocker off With Teeth that struck me as tailor-made for a balls-out arena-rock rendition, has only been trotted out onstage a handful of times.) There’s a steady momentum to the carefully arranged ninety-minute set, with fluid peaks, breaks and transitions in dynamics, tempo and attitude. Not to mention the sound quality: It’s perhaps the best of any concert video I’ve heard. Loud, punchy, crisp and clear, even on my Neanderthalian set-up. (The DVD is also available in HD DVD and Blu-Ray versions.)
The stand-out midpoint of the show finds the band standing behind a translucent white curtain, the lights in the back working in concert with Andrea Giacobbe’s video montage of stock footage to accompany “Eraser” and the haunting ballad “Right Where It Belongs.” The video-projection quality translates incredibly well to video — it was so clear that I began to suspect post-production enhancement. No matter. A DVD option allows an uninterrupted straight-ahead angle. Images range from war amputees to senior citizens with grotesque David Lynchian smiles in an Arizona retirement community, from packs of predators mauling their prey to President Bush dancing with his wife. Subtle, no, but compelling nonetheless and a gorgeous live experience.
The performance differences between the Fragile-heavy And All There Could Have Been and Beside You in Time, which features only one Fragile song, go beyond the set list to the composition of the band and the material. This DVD is a more straight-ahead, balls-out rock concert, hesitant to undertake take the sonic complexities and detours of Reznor’s Fragile-era band. Perhaps with his renewed attention to his physical fitness, he doesn’t need the airier, mellow bliss-outs to rest and recover as he once did.
The DVD includes the stripped-down video for “Hand That Feeds,” the visually dazzling David Fincher video for “Only,” and rehearsal performances of some of With Teeth‘s more forgettable moments: “The Collector,” “Everyday Is Exactly the Same” and “Love is Not Enough.” It also includes five live performances from the band’s summer tour, including “Non-Entity,” which doesn’t appear on any album.
Even though the band members wear black makeup, jostle and slam each other on-stage, toss water on each other and themselves into the crowd and gleefully stomp on keyboards, there’s an impalpable sterility rarely seen in music this aggressive and forceful. The stage-dives and guitar flinging often look forced and staged — directives from Lieutenant Reznor about on-stage antics aren’t difficult to imagine, because this band looks and carries on just like the Fragile-era band. Perhaps that’s merely the mark of its professionalism.
“Eraser” video: http://www.andreagiacobbe.net/video/nineinchnails01.html
“Right Where It Belongs” video: http://www.andreagiacobbe.net/video/nineinchnails02.html