Tagged: 2008

Nine Inch Nails: “Lights in the Sky” (Credit Union Centre; Saskatoon)

sliprez1I wondered how he’d get away with it.

I’d heard that Trent Reznor had included a couple of mood/ambient pieces from his Ghosts I-IV album in his live show.  How would that go over with the banger crowd?

To their credit, the youngish (compared to me) audience listened in respectful, if not exactly rapt silence, as Reznor slowed things right down about a third of the way through the concert.  During the spacey instrumentals, the lighters came out and most of the of the people around us sat down; even the mosh pit subsided into good-natured jostling.

It was a courageous move on the musician’s part.  Rather than play a standard greatest hits package, he touched on all aspects of his career, from the commercial highlights to his experimental side.

The new material stood up well:  The Slip is a fine, accomplished album.

The stagecraft was topnotch: the layout fairly standard, providing good line of sight.  Metal partitions descended at various points, serving as screens for projected visual effects like rain, shapeless abstractions, things on the verge of coming in to focus…

The musicianship was unbelievable.  These are guys Reznor hand-picked to help spread his misanthropic gospel to the great, brainwashed masses.  The chosen ones.  Guitarist Robin Finck is a wonder and Josh Freese provides thunderous accompaniment on drums…and then there’s Reznor himself, stomping about, whirling, howling; a ferocious performance.  It was a form of shamanism, there’s no other way to describe it.

Professional, polished?  Yes. Carefully considered, manipulative, rehearsed to the nth degree?  Undoubtedly.

maynardBut you can’t choreograph stage presence, sheer magnetism.  Reznor has it, baby.  So does Maynard Keenan (in spades).  An unmistakable aura, almost otherworldly in its vibe.  It radiates from them and electrifies a crowd of thousands, tens of thousands.  How much power does that take?

Reznor has his critics, of course, those who are unimpressed by his music or persona.  They call him a phony or a poser–my buddy Chris King had one of the best lines ever:

Trent,” he snorted.  “What sort of fuckin’ name is that for a metal guy?”

“So what’s a better one?” I challenged him.

Glenn Danzig,” he replied without hesitation and with that we both collapsed into a fit of laughter.  Because he was right, of course.  Glenn fuckin’ Danzig.

But I think even ol’ Chris would have been impressed by the show T.R. and his lads put on last night.  No effort or expense was spared to present Reznor’s fatal, poisonous vision of the world to a very receptive audience.

We were off to the side, terrific seats overlooking the stage–and we could also see the incredible computer control centre the stage crew monitored and operated to keep everything in synch.  It looked like something out of a science fiction movie or a missile tracking station at fucking NORAD.

Trent Reznor is at the top of his game right now, his artistry evident in every track on The Slip.  He is a man thoroughly in control of every aspect of his music and, clearly, thriving in that environment.

His aesthetic has expanded in the past few years especially and with it his range and depth. Whereas someone like Al Jourgensen (Ministry) will go to his grave shrieking and raging, Reznor’s psyche and sensibilities allow for far more variation, subtlety and virtuosity.

His bleak worldview is enticing, alarming, convincing; all the more so because the soundtrack is constantly changing as the skies darken and the wind begins to rise…

oil

Queens of the Stone Age–Live in Saskatoon (May 5, 2008)

A rare night out for me.   As regular readers of this blog know, it’s next to impossible to pull me away from my desk.  A workaholic agoraphobic, that’s me.  But when Laird called back in March and asked me if I was on for the Queens, I immediately said, “grab us some tickets, old son, but queek”.

Jesse accompanied us and so my usual qualms about being surrounded by a mass of sweaty strangers were much diminished—these lads make me feel comfortable and safe.  The weather was beautiful and we stopped off at O’Shea’s Pub, across the street from the Odeon, fueled up on Guinness and invective and hurried over once we heard the music pounding out through the open doors.

Glad we caught the opening act, Mugison, because they were amazing.  Unbelievably good.  They’re making big waves in their native Iceland and I can see why.  These boys weren’t just putting in time (a la Trans Am, the trio who opened for Tool), they fucking worked for their dime.  And completely won over the crowd by giving it their all.  Afterwards the lead singer and creative centre of the band came out and signed copies of the CD “Mugiboogie” (playing on my stereo as I type these words).  Check out some of their music on YouTube because, I’m telling you, the three of us were in full agreement that we’d love to see them play a full set as headliners and would pay dearly for the privilege.

But, clearly, the evening belonged to the Queens.  Josh and the boys were on and from the distinctive opening bars of “Feel Good Hit of the Summer” to the final encore number “Song for the Dead”, they absolutely owned the joint.  The fact that they were playing a relatively small venue in Saskatoon, Sask-at-chew-wan never seemed to occur to them—they rocked as hard and long as if they were playing to a crowd the size of a city at a Lollapalooza gig.

Over the past couple of years I’ve conquered some of my fear of big gatherings, constricted spaces and, as a result, have been present for some fucking amazing concerts.   Tool, the Pixies, Pearl Jam, Arcade Fire, the oneandonly Buddy Guy.  There’s something about the live experience that you just can’t capture in a recording, ripples of electricity surging through the crowd, the band feeding on the energy and then sending it back, a circuit of power and intensity and, yup, love that is as intoxicating as anything I’ve ever experienced.

I had been a fan and admirer of the Queens before the show last night, own at least five of their albums but now I have a renewed and enhanced appreciation for their technical skill, their passion for music, the extraordinary chemistry that unites the band, creating a perfect fusion of minds and talents.  They took their repertoire to a whole other level last night and afterwards I was at a loss, trying to put into words what I had just seen and heard.  Superlatives, as they are, are insufficient.

One quibble, and this has nothing to do with the band. People would not stop fucking moving.  And I don’t mean dancing or pogo-ing to the beat, I’m talking about restlessly roaming about like dumb animals, fucking morons jostling me, coming and going.   The sight lines at the Odeon aren’t good and the air circulation practically nonexistent and these idiot fucks couldn’t make up their minds where they wanted to be.  Very few people excused themselves and in some cases just plowed right through, figuring the forty bucks they paid for their ticket entitled them to behave like a horny bull moose.  One was sorely tempted to hook the feet out of the shithead who was making his third trip past, holding two sloshing glasses of beer and determined to get…somewhere.  Eventually I pulled far enough back so that I could hear the music without being disturbed by an eighteen year old with the manners, personal hygiene and I.Q. of a pot-bellied pig.

Dickwads.

But, really, it would’ve taken a lot more than meandering teenagers to spoil an incredible evening of music.  Everything wrapped up before eleven and afterward we stood outside awhile, ears still humming, grinning stupidly at each other.  Two great pals o’ mine and I, sharing a a magic moment before going our separate ways.  A quick, rough embrace for Jess, soon to be heading off to Edmonton for a summer job and then on our way home.

Eighteen hours later and I’m still smiling. Örn Elías Guðmundsson (aka “Mugison”) is wailing away in the living room and when I check the lyric sheet, I get a funny tingle:

“I’m in control,
It’s worth it,
I’m in control,
It’s worth it…”

One of those “holy shit” moments, too uncanny to be a coincidence.  I’ll take it at face value.

More than a message, closer to an imperative.

I hear…and obey.