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London Brixton Academy

The night's more wicked turns date back to when [B]NIN[/B] were cousins to [a]Depeche Mode[/a] and wore fishnet tights on their skinny forearms...

He looks like Bruce Springsteen. No, he really does: there's the torn capped sleeves, revealing arm muscles like small animals. A fist punching holes in the dry ice, knees bent precisely so, poised for might. Or flight. Like so many of Nine Inch Nails' mixed messages, it's hard to tell.



The songs, too, are straight outta Heartland, USA, but it's a heartland that has shifted, grown darker in a decade; less car mechanic, and more mortuary assistant. Maybe it's therapy culture that's ultimately responsible for all these sportz-goth-metal outpourings, the children of the headshrunk getting stuck at primal screaming, but there's no doubt whose fault the American musical obsession with negativity is. It's his. Trent took the hurt and made it mainstream, and - after four years of not getting out much - he's airing his soiled linen in public again.



This is our first audience since 1994 with the High Priest Of Pain, The Boss Of Bummed Out, and one gratifyingly filled with early-'90s emotions. The night's more wicked turns date back to when NIN were cousins to Depeche Mode and wore fishnet tights on their skinny forearms. So 'Terrible Lie' with its Euro-synth melody, and 'Sin' - all Theremin'n'hi-NRG bopping - revisit Trent's original sense of sleazy electronic fun, before The Great Seriousness banished such Eurofag fripperies and made him huge. Now, after a few weights sessions, NIN share guitarists with Axl Rose and have lights shaped like nails.



But even if the bulk of tonight's group purge is made up of bombastic declarations of woe like 'The Great Below' (off the new, double dose of grimness 'The Fragile') or the two-fingered, no-brain riff Olympics of 'Starfuckers Inc', Reznor's still more refined than your average rock pig. He's arty enough to obscure himself behind a screen projecting graceful images of natural wonders. He dallies with instrumentals and shards of experimental cricket noise. This, after all, is a man whose Nothing label licenses Warp releases in the States.



But - an anthemic 'Head Like A Hole' apart - tonight's sickest thrills come when Reznor's opposite instincts cuddle up. 'Closer' staggers in under the weight of its industrial sexx-bass, pulsating maliciously. But when Trent hollers, "I WANT TO FUCK YOU LIKE AN ANIMAL!", the rest of the Nails break into priceless backing "doot doot doos", worthy of The Shirelles. The man is twisted, see, like guts or bedsheets. But sometimes, too, like a smile.

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