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I should have known this would be a walk on the wild side when the press agent for Nine Inch Nails was briefing journalists and photographers.  Please be aware that you WILL get wet" was the first thing to come out of his mouth when briefing us before the concert.  Huh?  Get wet?  Sorry, I think I got in the wrong line.  I was supposed to cover the Nine Inch Nails concert, not the Shamu show at Seaworld!  As I turned to look at the other photographers assembled with me in the press area I saw the characteristic look of terror and then the roll of the eyes that accompanies this type of news when you are holding expensive camera equipment, all very, very sensitive to water.  "Excuse me," I say to the press agent, "wet in the first two songs?"  The answer, "Oh yes, wet!"  Oh boy.  This will be interesting.  Ready, aim, (duck from hail of water coming your way), aim and focus again, take the picture.  I can do this.  I’ve done it before with Motley Crue’s Nikki Sixx dousing me repeatedly and still managed to get a few good shots without ruining my camera.  The trick is all in the twist action when you see the water coming at you.  Its very simple.  Aim, focus, twist and cover, twist back again quickly before they run to the other side of the stage, focus again and snap the picture.  Its a little like the game of Twister.  Timing and coordination are everything.  So, armed with a huge wad of paper towel under my arm, and my beloved camera equipment, I join the group as we trot onto the elevator that takes us into the bowels of the arena and through the maze of production areas that lead to the stage pit. 

A Perfect Circle, fronted by Tool’s Maynard, have just finished their set.  The crowd is abuzz with anticipation.  After all, it has been a while since most of the NIN faithful have seen the elusive Trent Reznor. Two years in the making, "The Fragile" is a meticulously crafted piece of artwork that Reznor and Nine Inch Nails have successfully brought to the stage with the release of the CD in the latter part of 1999 and are just finishing up the "Fragility v2.0 leg of their tour.  Although I wasn’t thrilled about the water, I was pleasantly surprised thatthey carried out the post apocalyptic flavor with an added dimension.  With the recurring theme of water being present throughout the music, it was added to the live performance in several enhancing effects.  The first was the use of three 17 foot high video screens, which depicted visions of water and other elements, in sometimes dramatic or subdued colors, depending on the feel of the music being played.  The video images were perfectly timed and matched to the band’s music, especially during a trio of songs; "La Mer," "The Great Below," and "The Mark Has Been Made."  For these songs, Los Angeles artist Bill Viola lent his talents to an already brilliant and enhanced show of sight and sound.  The second enhancement to the normal concert fare came in what could have been an unintentional way.  It was the damn water!  When Trent and the rest of the band came out onto the stage, they wore heavy stage make up on their faces, in their hair and on their clothes.  As the water from their water bottles began to fly, and they doused each other (and the journalists and fans below), a strange thing began to happen.  They began to change from the zombie-like beings they appeared as, to a glistening version of the same, and finally, at least in Trent’s case, back to the classic dark looks he is known for.  What must have been water based make up was washed off gradually, allowing them to do almost three phases of costume/effects changes without leaving the stage or being obvious.  Brilliant I say!  Good show, Trent dahling . . .

And what, you may ask, is so "Fragile" about industrial/dance/rock music, water and zombies?  Well, not sure on this one.  But here are a few of my observations.  In this day and age, who leaves the public eye for five years and emerges all these years later with a piece of work that defies convention and stimulates the imagination?  Trent Reznor.  His 23 track, double CD release "The Fragile," clearly shows what he has been doing on his summer vacation, as he so aptly puts it.  The master of his own fusion of dance music, hard rock and industrial flavorings, Trent Reznor has been doing anything but vacationing in his two year effort to create this compelling, post apocalyptic sounding work.  Says Reznor, "I wanted to try new things, fully utilizing the studio while putting more effort into melody and structure.  Instead of trying to analyze what I was creating, I just let it flow to see where it went.  It was all about not being afraid and it felt very liberating."

While making my way through The Fragile, I began to wonder if I was being administered an audio rohrschack test.  I kept asking myself, "Wonder what that means?"  I would get very close to thinking I was on the right track with my thoughts as they wove through the heavy, synthesized beats, then another track would begin in a totally different vein and I was back at square one.  One minute I was imagining myself slinking through the vestiges of a post nuclear shanty town with Michael Jackson’s "Thriller" dancers, and as the tracks changed, I was standing at the edge of an isolated pool of water, where the only sound was that of a lone drop falling from the sky and causing a harmonic "ping" as it met its destiny.

The lyrics of The Fragile belie the rantings of a voice that screams its desperate frustration, while all the while, a small and overwhelmed little boy hides just on the fringes of the screams, wanting love and acceptance.  "There’s a general theme to the album of systems failing and things sort of falling apart," Reznor explains.  "In keeping the idea of making everything sound a little broken, I chose stringed instruments because they’re imperfect by nature.  Although it may not sound like it, most of the album is actually guitar - and that includes the orchestral sounds and weird melodic lines.  When it came to instruments that I didn’t really know how to play - like Ukulele or the slide guitar - we were able to get some really interesting sounds by making the studio the main instrument." 

So, does "The Fragile" speak to the fragility of the human state?  Could it paint pictures of the fragile psyche of the creator of the music?  This may never be answered.  But it is safe to say that Trent does it again . . . and again . . . and again with every weapon in his musical arsenal.

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