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Ziggy Strikes!

 ATN managing editor Eric Lipton reports: If it wasn't for David Bowie, I'd be straight. If it weren't for Trent Reznor, I'd have had no one to complain about it with.

Bowie, who as Ziggy Stardust genderfucked my already confused mind, may be the backdrop that all my musical taste was later painted on. This backdrop was perfect fodder for Nine Inch Nails, led by Trent Reznor, when I first heard their first album, Pretty Hate Machine.

News that they were touring together this fall seemed too perfect. I followed the tour hype and review press from the start. I'm sure you were touched by it at some point. It's been hard to avoid, and rightly so: it's quite an amazing show.

Of course, the night (Sat., Oct. 21) they were to perform at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View California, there was an accident on Highway 17, the one way to the show from my home in Santa Cruz. Several hundred Nine Inch Nails fans, and sadly less Bowie fans were stuck in traffic as Trent Reznor hit the stage only a few dozen miles away. The rolling Monterey Bay-driven fog covered up the red and yellow lights of the firetrucks was not unlike the stage that Nine Inch Nails was performing on. This isn't something those of us in traffic were appreciating. We were anxious, we were annoyed. No one was hurt in the accident, eventual rubbernecking proved, and all and all, we didn't end up too late.

Not too late.

They've a few songs left.

I really didn't want to miss anything of this concert.

Bowie's been touring to promote his recent Brian Eno steered Outside an effort that almost absolves the quintessential too-serious genius of the terror that was Tin Machine. Reznor's promoting... nothing really. The Downward Spiral, his last album, came well over a year and a half ago, and a new release Further Down the Spiral is merely a number of remixes, some of them unfortunate, from the well-worn The Downward Spiral. But there's something more important to Reznor than just a new album. NIN provides the soundtrack to Generation X, Y and Z's angst and yes, being fit into that fray he's come to help me on many a dark and deliciously dreary night.

Together they are a sociological, psychological trip into the human mind. Apart they still their fantastically pompous selves, overshadowed only by the power of their combination.

We arrived finally, parked eventually, got to the stage after excruciatingly long... just in time to catch "Closer," NIN's big MTV hit, known for the cleverly censored use of the word "F CK." By taking out the vowel, MTV avoided the Dole Patrol, but the candor of the song survived. Reznor, dressed all in leather black is practically crying the words, constantly breaking keyboards, throwing them, and those who play them around the stage.

The effect would have been great in a club. Sadly, it was tiny in a place the size of Shoreline. He really seemed small, the actions comical - not intense. It's an outdoor arena, and the people aren't buying. No one around me is dancing. No moshing. Not even all that much head-bobbing. This is wrong. And strangely, Reznor isn't the big force on stage. It's the drums. They really are the main character in the on-stage play. The driving beat of the speaking drums overpowers anything the CDs or Albums could produce, and overpower the heavy synths and even Reznor's whine.

Whine? I'd never thought of it as a whine before.

I realize why.

Bowie's taken the stage.

The Thin White Duke is wearing, surprise, white. And he's huge. I don't mean in size, although he is considerably taller than Reznor. But there's something more: style. While Reznor throws things around and screams for presence, Bowie strides. He raises his arm. He croons into the mike. He commands the stage, and the audience. His voice, deep and resounding reduces everything else to a whine. Even the drums are put into place.

The man is pure sex. I instantly remember how he seduced me as Ziggy, sold both me and the world, led me along Station to Station, took me from Low to Lodger, and was so good for so long that yes, I put up with his insipid '80s offerings. He never sings "F CK" or "fuck" or anything so crass. He sings the word "cigarette," and it means "fuck," somehow. It's erotic romance and it still works. Reznor may be the voice of the "Goth" generation, but Bowie is the voice of something greater than that. He's the king vampire, he's the last gentleman, and his merely walking the length of the stage and back has more affect than a hundred smashed keyboards.

And I felt really sorry for Reznor. The tour was great for both careers, but you see the age, the experience, and the difference between the two. Together they perform only four songs, Bowie's Scary Monsters which was too-tongue-in-cheek for too-severe NIN, (although NIN is as good a replacement for Robert Fripp as anyone), NIN's "Reptile," which was too-graphic for too-couth Bowie (How wrong is it for Bowie to sing "She spreads herself wide open...? Very.). They sing Bowie's new "Hallo Spaceboy" and it works, although that song is hardly Bowie's best piece. They sing NIN's "Hurt" and it changes my opinion of both of them, the concert and defines their appeal in a song.

"Hurt" is arguably NIN's best work. Reznor breaks out of his nasal voice a bit and actually sings. The song drips with real feeling, musically and lyrically. Yeah it's pretentious, embarrassingly so. But what that's worth-while in life isn't a guilty pleasure?

"What have I become/ my sweetest friend? Everyone I know/goes away..."

The live performance, juiced up, is more charged than both album version or its softer remix. But within both album versions there's more intensity, an intensity that would have been lost if Bowie wasn't there.

They take turns with the lyrics. Bowie, then Reznor. Then Bowie. And this is where the difference shines: With Reznor, "I will let you down/ I will make you hurt," is a complaint, a tragic flaw. With Bowie, it's a brag. Bowie sings it proud, sexy, strong. Almost to an uplifting affect. Reznor is self-pitying, sad, breaking, but not broken. Both are amazing interpretations. Both absolutely correct.

Then NIN left, and Bowie ran through his set, most of which culled from his new Outside. And yes, some unfortunate audience folk who came only to complain with Reznor left.

How tragic.

Outside is entertaining, and better live than on CD. Bowie has fun with it, and most of the audience, unfamiliar with these songs, still seem to enjoy them. How can you not? He's got you hypnotized you into submission. Fawn. Gush. Yeah, I'm biased. I don't care if he's straight these days. How can you not love that voice? He's singing that one to me.

His few non-Outside numbers are ones that have been co- opted by others. "Under Pressure" and "The Man who Sold the World." The later, a fully synth, all-plugged remix that answers the unplugged Nirvana cover in spades.

I enjoyed the set. But I kept thinking back to "Hurt." Freud would have a field day with these two. Reznor and Bowie are easily the id and superego of the same self-absorbed, manic depressive, overly serious, deliciously depraved mind. Life hurts them, they hurt life, and in the midst of it all is an amazing amount of sex.

Reznor is primal, it's on the surface. Bowie has class, it's underneath. Reznor writes "I will let you down," But Bowie titles albums "never let you down."

I want that mind. Don't we all?

I've never fully enjoyed an arena show. I'd never seen an arena show that I felt was fully worth the admission. This may be the first time I've felt differently. For all my love of Bowie and NIN, I probably would have been disappointed if both only performed alone. Both sets were too short, and too compressed on a tiny stage for a huge audience to really make the music work.

But "Hurt" changed that. And I'm sure, somewhere in the massive crowd packed into Shoreline, was some kid who went home confused as hell. He went to complain with Reznor, and he walked away thinking about Bowie.

Ziggy strikes again.

(From ATN, October 24, 1995)

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