“That guy,” my wife Kate said of Trent Reznor on the way home from this show in one of the most memorable one-line concert reviews I’ve ever heard or read, “is a grease spot on the windshield of rock and roll.”
She was there to see Bowie, obviously.
This show, like David Bowie, is an enigma wrapped in a conundrum wrapped in a rid–no, wrapped in a rancid corn dog. In my mind he is a great artist and a creative force, a visionary who understands how music works (composing, performing and arranging) on a level most other pop stars just can’t. Prince and Paul McCartney and Beck are much like Bowie in this regard; Britney Spears needs to hire 15 people to do the tasks Bowie can accomplish all by himself, when he feels like it.
Bowie’s also a great collaborator, having worked with everyone from Jagger to Iggy to Lou Reed to Luther Vandross to Stevie Ray Vaughan to…Trent Reznor. He understands how to make the sum greater than its parts, musically. He also knows how to glom on to the coolest music of the moment, which in the mid-1990s was….wait for it…industrial and its son, post-industrial waste.
And, sadly, he’s also had his musical slumps, like the great Derek Jeter and his 0-for-32 a few years ago. After the fumes of the brilliant Let’s Dance gave way to clunkers like Tonight and Never Let Me Down, Bowie dusted off his crap machine, recycled some more spineless pop junk, and tried to make a silk purse out of sow’s ear with some upbeat soulful jazz arrangements and noisy rhythm, putting together his Black Tie White Noise CD. Its hit single, “Jump They Say,” showed a little promise (no video embedding, just linking, the Bowie Marketing Machine decree-eth).
Then came 1. Outside, whatever the heck that was (for the record, a concept album rumored to be the first in a trilogy but so half-baked that Bowie’s never recorded the second or third part). Funky, here and there, but it sounded like warmed-over Happy Mondays or bad jungle techno in too many spots, with some jazz sounds tossed in here and there so’s we can tell it’s sophisticated.
So we knew a new Bowie tour would probably be a mixed bag, but all would be forgiven if he tossed out some Tin Machine or some of his edgier stuff like “Rebel Rebel” or even “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps).” Bowie, who could coolly charm the pants off Marian the Librarian, sold his new record well in press and on-air interviews. So yes, we said, sign us up for the $36.75 tickets to see the Bowie/NIN show at Great Woods.
Intriguing! And if NIN stinks, Bowie will be good, right? We only had to burn half a vacation day each to get down to Great Woods, which is…in the middle of nowhere, requiring a two-hour battle through Boston’s infamous rush hour to get there.
Little did we know we were in for a post-music show taken straight out of a post-apocalyptic Mad Max movie. First off, Great Woods (since renamed Tweeter Center and then the Comcast Center) had just been savaged by losers attending the previous Lollapalooza. All the nice foliage that we’d known at the venue was gone, used in bonfires, apparently. In its place? Sand. Everywhere.
It was hot. Really hot. We were not rich enough to get inside the amphitheater; our tickets got us as far as the cusp, under the flat-screens that surround it. We could, technically, see the musicians, but it was more like watching the Red Sox at a sports bar than actually being at the game. Or on a parched desert with the threat of rogue motorcycle gangs, er, I mean Nine Inch Nails fans, coming after you.
Wikipedia says NIN always came on first during this tour. Wrong. Bowie opened this show and NIN closed it. Bowie, who we’d thought could put on a good show, played about 12 songs we’ver never heard except “Jump They Say” and “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps).” There might have been one of his better cuts wedged in there (a set list here says he slipped in “The Man Who Sold the World,” “Andy Warhol,” and “Joe The Lion,” which I should have picked out), but the light-jazz sound and his suited cabaret singer persona (instead of the Thin White Duke, we’ll call this incarnation Pale Sammy Davis) just muttered through largely same-sounding songs that would have made Kenny G proud.
If Wikipedia is right with this particular detail, Boston guitarist (and Tin Machine bandmate) Reeves Gabrels was manning the axe. I loved Tin Machine but if he was there, he left no impression.
For a few wonderfully inventive songs, there was the best act-to-act transition I’ve seen: One Bowie band member left, one NIN guy came on per tune. After a while it was Bowie in leather jacket (when did he lose that awful suit?), Reznor, and NIN. The music never stopped. To me, that was the pinnacle of concert planning and respect for the fans who came out. Nice!
Alas, after that, was Nine Inch Nails. They’re beloved, Trent Reznor Twitters his fingers off, and because I’m about to type what I am, no doubt Popdose’s comment servers will be overwhelmed with new notions about my mother and extended family (as we’ve seen before when anyone deigns to disagree with the whole online NIN sycophant-o-sphere): But as your loyal Popdose Mojo, I cannot lie.
I’ve had a root canal. One. I hope to never have one again. You see, they drill through your teeth and…well let’s just say there are many moments during root canal–which involves hours in an endodontist’s chair–where your entire skull is vibrated with odd dental instruments bumping up against your jawbone. This effect, I know firsthand, anesthetics can’t make less troublesome.
In that respect, NIN was pretty much like root canal. In no way was it pleasant, although there were a couple cathartic moments that I thought were less crappy than others. Needless to say, I will not go through that elective concert procedure ever again.