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2000.06.16 - Rocky Mountain News - Playing With Passion (Robin)

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Post by Soulmonster on Wed Jun 04, 2014 9:55 am


Article from: Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO) | June 16, 2000 |

Byline: Mark Brown News Popular Music Critic

“Maybe I’m obsolete,” Nine Inch Nail leader Trent Reznor told an interviewer earlier this year.

It was a legitimate fear. In the five long years between the brilliant The Downward Spiral and last year’s The Fragile, the world of music changed. Even “superstar” bands such as the Smashing Pumpkins found that their audience would drift away.

But the dark, pounding industrial soundscapes and visceral punch of NIN’s music seem to strike a chord more deeply than most. Despite industry expectations that this tour could be soft on ticket sales, the arenas have been filling up. There is loyalty left in rock ‘n’ roll after all.

“The crowds at our shows … are a lot of the passionate Nine Inch Nails fans I remember from four years ago. They’re either still there, or there’s a lot of new ones,” guitarist Robin Finck says. “We don’t feel like we’re playing in front of a room full of strangers. The fans are still there.”

Sunday’s show at the Pepsi Center is the final date of the U.S. tour and should find the band especially forceful. “We’re deep in the groove of this right now,” Finck says.

Like Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails has spawned many imitators - of their sound, their look, their lyrics - but they all sound hollow, forced and calculated compared to the real thing. No matter how physical performances by Powerman 5000 or other bands can get, they don’t hold a candle to the sight of Reznor and company throwing their bodies and their whole beings against guitars, keyboards and drums.

Bursting out of Cleveland with the breakthrough singles Head Like a Hole and Down In It, Reznor hit a stunning peak with The Downward Spiral, an unblinking look into the darkness of the human soul that remains one of the defining albums of the ’90s. While other acts whined, Reznor’s music brutally confronted the basest instincts of man - a true piece of art that was too intense for many.

But then the band hit an identity crisis - in no small part from the pressure of having to top a masterpiece. Reznor went into hiding for years to make The Fragile. Finck bailed altogether, leaving the band before the recording began, but coming back to put it on the road.

“After all that touring was over - which seemed like a thousand years long - we all ended up in New Orleans. Trent bought a building and was creating a studio,” Finck says. “We were there for about a year when I needed to do something completely different. So I auditioned for the circus and left.”

Literally. Finck, one of rock’s most in-demand guitarists, toured the U.S. with Cirque Du Soleil’s Quidam production, about as far from rock ‘n’ roll as you can get.

“I took a giant dive over the fence, hoping I was going to land OK. It’s one of the greatest things I’ve ever done for my growth of character. It wasn’t a money thing or a career opportunity. I needed to get out of the rock world for a second.”

It worked.

“My friends were 9-year-old Chinese girls who couldn’t speak any English, 50-year-old clowns from France, and gymnasts and athletes and dancers and acrobats, stretching on gym mats and drinking juice,” he says. “It was the polar opposite scene from what you see backstage at a Nine Inch Nails concert.”

Touring with Quidam and doing 10 performances a week restored some discipline and balance to his life and in a strange way got him ready for his next assignment: Working with Axl Rose in the reconstituted Guns N’ Roses.

It was another fascinating leap - going from working with the reclusive, demanding Reznor to the reclusive, demanding Rose.

“It was a very different experience if for no other reason that it was all studio stuff,” he says.

While Reznor has a focused vision, Rose was all over the map, starting songs in a dozen different styles but never finishing them. The GNR album, Chinese Democracy, still isn’t out and may never show up. And even Finck can’t tell you what it’s like.

“Honestly, we recorded so many different song ideas and so many different types of songs - from very simple, traditional piano songs to 16-stereo tracks of keyboard floral and blur,” he says. “Most of the stronger songs that ended up on A-lists when I was there were these huge rock songs, built for the masses, really guitar driven.

“But to be honest, it’s one of the reasons I’m not there anymore,” he continues. “No one song was ever completed. And I was there for 2 1/2 years. It was great for a while, then it became terribly frustrating - not seeing anything completed because no lyrics were finished. That’s too important a variable to leave. I helped write and arrange and record enough songs for several records. When Axl finishes the lyrics, I assume they’re going to be released. I hope they turn out great. But there’s not a release date right now.”

It left Finck in a bit of a bind - having skipped recording The Fragile with Reznor to have the GNR project go nowhere. But he was relieved when Reznor happily asked him back for the tour.

“I had made the decision to come back to Nails before I’d listened to The Fragile, purposely,” he says. “I was anxious to hear Trent’s new record, obviously. But I had every faith that it was going to be fantastic. So I was thrilled to be back. The first day we started playing the songs from the older sets and it really felt like quite a homecoming.”

Bringing fresh ears to the project also helped transform the complex album to be performed onstage, though Finck admits it is always a challenge to bring Reznor’s unique vision to the concert stage.

“We’re pretty close, our roots run pretty deep,” Finck says. “I have an understanding of what Nine Inch Nails is and will become. There’s a trust and respect there. Trent is absolutely the executive ringleader, but he’s usually pleased with the way things turn out without too much bending and forcing things.”

Besides, driving songs such as We’re in This Together, Somewhat Damaged, No You Don’t and Just Like You Imagined carry enough emotion and fury that the band is swept away.

“The songs are the strongest vehicle for that energy and that momentum. I certainly don’t restrain myself,” Finck says. “We’re fortunate enough to be playing in front of really passionate listeners.
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