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How to Make a Backward N

In a region known for its fog, it takes quite a bit of mist to get a Northern Californian to notice when visibility drops, but Nine Inch Nails' stage show sets the record for the most obscure ever mounted. Trent Reznor and the gang were practically invisible unless they came under the direct glare of a spot or the utterly blinding and apoplexy-inducing strobes that lined the top of the stage. Goth metal never went anywhere, it was just lost for a bit.

Returning to California after a couple of nights in Brazil, Nine Inch Nails presented a short but energetic performance at the Civic Auditorium. Clocking in at just under two hours, Reznor and his talented band of "interchangeable lawnmower parts" (Morrissey's only memorable quote about session musicians)--Aaron North on guitar, Jeordie White (formerly known as Twiggy Ramirez) on bass, Alessandro Cortini on keys and Josh Freese on drums--trounced through 21 tunes with nary a pause or mic break. Jetlag is a bitch.

In fact, it was Freese's first official night as drummer, taking over the dark percussive throne from Alex Carapetis who in turn picked up the sticks from longtime band member Jerome Dillion back in October. Between cardiac arrhythmias, creative and artistic differences and ego collision, it's hard to keep Trent's backbeat going.

NIN opened up with "Pinion" and crashed through "You Know Who You Are" and "Terrible Lie" before coming up for air. While the new material from With Teeth and The Fragile was perfectly serviceable, the real highlights were, of course, the holiday favorites--"March of the Pigs," "Closer" and "Hurt."

All three of these formerly massive singles were reworked for live presentation, their densely layered studio mixes reduced to their most primal elements, namely guitars, lots and lots of them. For a band known for its synthesizer and sampling work, a surprising amount of six-string figured into the show. Sometimes three guitars at once chimed in over the drums, creating an unholy wall of scrunch. Depending on how you want to look at it, Cortini's keyboards were understated or undermixed all night. The crowd was enthusiastic but surprisingly well behaved throughout the proceedings, singing along and jostling without violently moshing like it was a Ministry show. If fact, with the exception of the one yellow-mohawked bastard who crowd-surfed for far too long, people were downright respectful of each other. Maybe it's because most people were agape at the sheer variety of flesh and corsetry on display. There are fewer fishnets at the municipal wharf.

The band closed out the night with a 1-2 of "Starfuckers" and "Head Like a Hole" before retiring to the safety of their bus bunks. It was nice not to have to go through the charade of an encore and instead revel in the feedback produced by the band leaving everything turned up to 11 as they marched off stage. Thanks Trent, get some rest, and come back soon.

See You at the Crossroads

"When I say 2Pac, you say Biggie" is a curious rallying cry for a band, but then again, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony are a curious bunch. Who else has hula-hoop contests at the end of their set? Not even Handsome Boy or Wyclef pull that off anymore. But then again, "There ain't no party like a Bone Thug party, cause a Bone Thug party don't stop." Or something like that.

Bizzy Bone, Layzie Bone, Wish Bone and Krayzie Bone are still one the road, seemingly unfazed by the 11-year sentence that Flesh-N-Bone is still serving for pulling an AK on a friend back in 2000. They are still harmonizing over the quick flows, and yes, they played "The Crossroads."

The rest of the set was fine, but totally unintelligible, and to be honest, kind of hard to pay attention to. It's just that there are so many other bands out there that have beat the Thugs at their own game and they came off sounding both dated and jaded. But the show did sell out, proving that SC hip-hop heads respect their roots--even when they haul out the hula hoops.

Peter Koht

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From the December 14-21, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.

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