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Mon, Oct. 23, 1995

By Marrk Paytress


MOUNTAIN VIEW - Pairing Nine Inch Nails with David Bowie certainly makes commercial, conceptual sense. The two acts that filled the Shoreline Amphitheatre Saturday night with theatrical angst, two generations of pop fans and a whole lot of smoke represent separate, but increasingly overlapping schools of merging the noise of rock with the mind of art.

Trent Reznor - the singer and multi-instrumentalist behind Nine Inch Nails - puts the rage first and then considers the overall package. Mixing the guitar attack of punk and heavy metal and the synthesizer experimentation of left-field dance music, Reznor throws a musical tantrum that approaches greatness when his melodies are as strong as his bluster. Just as Kurt Cobain made something personal out of grunge, Reznor individualises the inhuman drone of industrial rock with multiplatinum results.

After a quarter century of hit-making, Bowie remains committed to an approach to rock that favors intellect over passion. He's an ideas' man who has expanded the possibilities of how popular music could present itself. His latest album, "Outside," is his first serious - perhaps too serious - bid to recapture the attention of pop tastemakers. By connecting with former collaborator Brian Eno, Bowie affirms his avant-garde credentials as he courts the alternative crowd.

The major difference between the two is that Reznor attracts an almost exclusively young audience while Bowies following is an ever-dwindling mass of adults who discovered him ages ago. Reznor needs to score with Bowies era of fans to expand his cultural impact, while Bowie faces on even greater pressure to connect with Nine Inch Nails fans. His current single, "Hearts Filthy Lesson ," has actually been remixed by Reznor and it's that version you're most likely to hear on the radio.

The evening was designed to make the most out of the pairing and blur the differences between the two entertainers. After a brief delayed set by the ho-hum NIN wannabes in Prick, Nine Inch Nails played for about an hour, then joined up with Bowie for several songs. Bowie's musicians gradually filled the stage as the NIN crew left without ceremony. The singer picked up where Reznor left off until nearly 11 p.m., when he suddenly exited without warning. There was no encore by any act.

On their own, both Bowie and Reznor alternated between flashes of brilliance and predictable excess.

Reznor - whom most of the crowd apparently came to see - was very much his usual bratty self. He stalked the stage, threw around his mike stand, tackled his musicians, knocked over the equipment and pounded on his instruments. Because he's done this routine since the late 80s, it's gotten kind of old. Rather that appearing passionate and spontaneous, Reznor now goes through the destructive motions with detachment, calculation. His roadies scurry to clean up his mess and the antics detract from the very real frustration embodied by his music.

Bowie devoted much of his set to "Outside," a pretentious and nearly tuneless concept album devoted to the semi-futuristic theme of "art-murders." He was joined by many of the musicians on that album (minus Eno of course), who breathed some fire into the cold studio arrangements. But the unfamiliarity of the material mixed with its melodic limitations worked against him. Only when Bowie reached back to reinvent some of his less obvious older songs - particularly "Look Back In Anger," "Andy Warhol" and "Under Pressure" - did his solo set click.

The real excitement came midway when NIN, Bowie and his band all teamed up. Reznor and Bowie traded lines on each others songs while the professionalism of Bowie's seasoned musicians complimented the intensity of Reznor's band. The choice of Bowie's "Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)" was pure genius: The veteran crooner warbled away at the finish while Reznor screamed "No! No! No!" and punched his keyboard. Their joint rendition of NIN's major MTV hit "Hurt" was just as intense. It was oddly moving to see these icons of alienation uniting together, riding each others stylistic coattails. Their inspired union justified the indulgence of the rest.

(From the San Francisco Examiner)


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