2007 / Movie Reviews / Music

Review: Nine Inch Nails DVD Documents Concert Experience But With Little Flair

Industrial Music Act Release Second Concert DVD

When someone is pressed to give a definition of industrial music, they’d probably refer to the rhythmic use of mechanized-sounding samples.

Photo: Nothing Records/Interscope Records

Photo: Nothing Records/Interscope Records

The term could also be twisted to refer to the production method employed by the genre’s most preeminent practitioner, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. He’s an industry unto himself. Reznor has been a one-man, music-making foundry for years — writing, singing and playing all the instruments on his darkly passionate albums. In the process, he has become a symbol for an entire subculture.

Business has been red-hot for Reznor recently after he reenergized his operation with 2005’s “With Teeth,” his best record in years. The latest product aimed to stoke the flames is Nine Inch Nails’ second concert DVD, “Beside You In Time.” But as is the case in so much that is the subject of mass production, this DVD is vacant of any art and comes across like a soulless cog. It ultimately offers very little that’s unique or more emotionally powerful than anything else being pressed every day by the music industry.

Films, whatever their subject, are meant to capture a moment so as to preserve the memory. To be sure, this DVD documents an era of Reznor’s band, when he recaptured the spark of the group’s early years in the ’90s and powerfully refocused all that pent-up, vengeful and super-sexual energy that he has.

But, obviously, all movies aren’t alike and it certainly ups the experience if some artistry is applied to the final product. Anyone can take a snapshot, but as Ellen DeGeneres cleverly implied in a gag during last weekend’s Oscars, a photo taken by Steven Spielberg of her buddying up with Clint Eastwood might end up as something much more than that if she let Eastwood’s wife snap it.

“Beside You In Time” was directed by Rob Sheridan and captures to digital perfection a handful of views of the group’s performance onstage during the recent “With Teeth” tour. (Oddly, few are close-up shots.) In fact, it’s three songs in, during “Terrible Lie,” before we get a semi-decent look at Reznor’s new look. He’s no longer the wiry vampire sporting a Halloween witch’s flat, black wig. Now, Reznor’s hair is buzzed and he looks much stockier. Maybe he’s been hanging out with Glenn Danzig.

The songs were compiled from two shows in Oklahoma City and El Paso, Texas, in March 2006. While the performances were all well-executed renditions of 19 great tracks from the Nine Inch Nails catalog, there’s a certain sterility to it all. Sheridan leaves no noticeable imprint of his own and there’s no flow from one greatest hit to another, no feeling that we’re seeing a complete performance or a seeing an artist during a time period that really matters.

In great concert films like “The Last Waltz” or “Don’t Look Back,” there’s an explicit element of drama that underlies the performances. Each movie has a central conflict that the viewer wants to see resolved. It varies depending on the film, but there’s either a tug of war between the performer and audience or performer struggling with fame or just curiosity of whether the musicians will get through the concert in one piece.

“Beside You In Time” has none of this. It doesn’t delve into the trip from one show to another, has no interviews with the principals or vignettes of backstage hi-jinx. There’s no drama at all and really, no feeling that these performances are really that markedly different from any other. One suspects that any of the shows from the tour’s stops in Seattle or New York or London could have been swapped in without a noticeable difference one way or another. This DVD makes no attempt to hide the fact that it’s just a series of concert clips. All shots are taken with a noticeable distance from the stage as if they are purposefully being kept back to the arena’s half-court line. The camera is often pulled so far back that this could be used as part of a resume for the tour’s stage designer.

The problem is that given the meticulous level of attention that Reznor typically showers on his CDs, this DVD seems like an afterthought. At best, the movie is a delayed tour souvenir or new widget valuable only to NIN obsessives. At worst, it’s a cheap attempt to cash in before the group’s new album drops. Contrast this with the fascinating, “Matrix”-esque marketing campaign for the new album and it raises questions about whether Reznor was involved in this project at all.

At the root of the problem, perhaps, is Reznor himself. A renowned control freak, Reznor is such a perfectionist that he trains his hired hands to perform the songs as closely as possible to the recorded versions. As a result, there’s no feeling that we’re seeing a live performance here. Guitarist Aaron North and bassist Jeordie White (formerly Twiggy Ramirez of Marilyn Manson fame) might wildly thrash about onstage, but the antics are just part of the presentation. It belies the level of musical precision required of them in each song. These songs have no room for musical departures, no extra solos or rearrangements. Reznor might as well perform with his laptop backing him.

The DVD’s bonus materials are also a mixed bag. There are five performances from the group’s summer tour, which further underscore the interchangeability with what’s on the main part of the DVD. There’s a disappointing photo slideshow that really doesn’t inspire repeat viewing and a couple of music videos from the album.

The most captivating part of this entire DVD is tucked away among the bonus features. There are three songs captured during the tour’s rehearsals. Apparently filmed over several days (Reznor’s outfit changes from a blood red button-down shirt to a crisp businessman’s white to a black T-shirt), we see the band flawlessly work through new songs “The Collector,” “Every Day Is Exactly The Same” and “Love Is Not Enough.” Part of the greatness of this material is the implied danger to it. There’s a tension palpable to the viewer that since this is all practice, the whole thing might collapse. There’s room for the unexpected and it’s thoroughly refreshing from the mechanical precision of the main concert footage.

For industrial music mavens, this DVD — regardless of its flaws — will be a welcome addition to their Nine Inch Nails collection. “Beside You In Time” gives fanatics a chance to own the best-looking video bootleg of the band ever. Most, however, will see immediately that these performances lack the fire and spontaneity of arguablely their most popular bootleg recording: their mud-covered performance at Woodstock 1994.

For those unfamiliar with industrial music, the DVD will reaffirm feelings of alienation.

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Note: David’s nationally syndicated music column, Soundbytes, appeared in the Entertainment section of all Internet Broadcasting websites. This column was originally published there.

©Copyright 2007 by David Hyland. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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