In the spirit of full-disclosure, I should warn you at the outset of this review that I am a huge admirer of the Nine Inch Nails rock show, and am firmly of the belief that objectivity (whatever that means) is a hugely over-rated virtue when it comes to the assessment of works of art. In my opinion, if you don't love it a little, it's probably best to keep your trap shut.
I've long been a slave to Trent Reznor's simultaneously thrilling and terrifying grind, and after years of waiting, I was looking forward to these performances with the kind of anticipation that is usually reserved for things like finding water after 40 days and 40 nights in the desert. Having said that, I was not without reservations heading in.
I had whetted my appetite for the current incarnation of Nine Inch Nails in early May at Coachella, where it was clear that Reznor, who looked like a million dollars, was undeniably capable of bringing the rock; but something was different. Having last seen Nine Inch Nails in 1994 and 1995 on the now legendary "Self Destruct" tour, it seemed, at Coachella, that something like an order of magnitude had been lost, along with all the dirty transgression and general insanity of his performance in those days. Suffice it to say that while I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Reznor look so well at Coachella, and was extremely pleased to see that he still roars, I had also been just a little dismayed, and could not quite conceive of how he would manage to achieve the power he once wielded. The concern that he simply could not made me nervous like only the anticipation of a favorite artist's new work can.
Those worries were not in the least allayed by the absolutely brilliant warm up performance of href="http://http://www.dresdendolls.com/">The Dresden Dolls. Calling themselves "Brechtian Punk Cabaret" the Dolls feature the absolutely scorching Amanda Palmer on pounded piano and vocals, and the equally staggering Brian Viglione on drums.
Palmer and Viglione took the stage in white cake make-up and proceeded to deliver one of the most original, authentically incandescent performances I have ever seen. Palmer straddled her bench and rocked the piano as if it were a flame-throwing guitar in the cocksure hands of a metal god, and Viglione, all sharp cheekbones in a bowler hat behind his kit, punctuated her every word with a combination of raw power and gorgeously expressive sensitivity. Midway through their fiery cover of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" I had to admire Reznor's confidence in asking an act this bewilderingly good to precede him, and started wondering how Nine Inch Nails could possibly top their singular genius.