Nine Inch Nails, with Bauhaus and Peaches

at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, July 7

Traffic and the uphill death march to Verizon’s grounds kept us from seeing much of Peaches’ set, although a chick who used to sport a beard (in the age of electrolysis!) and spouts verbal porn isn’t what we drove two hours for anyway. We did catch enough to pique our interest, however. Firstly, we were happy to find former Hole/Motley Crue drummer Samantha Maloney as part of her rockin’ band. And we had to admire Peaches’ moxie as she dashed up the stands in a WWF-style, triple X–emblazoned cape, egging the sparse audience to sing along to the chorus of “Fuck the Pain Away.” Apparently, teens and middle-aged blondes in Bebe tops share the same filthy little mind. “Don’t be afraid of the daylight,” Peaches urged the crowd trickling in, who apparently didn’t want to peak too early in the evening. (Fashion note: If all morbidly obese women dressed as Ren Faire wenches, there would be less discrimination in this world.)

So with the first sight of Bauhaus guitarist Daniel Ash’s bee shades and mohair vest, a roar raged through the house and the place went dark, though the sun had not yet set. Looking like the Thin White Duke meets Vincent Price in The Fall of the House of Usher, singer Peter Murphy greeted fans with a big, warm “Fuck you!” and rested his pointy shoes on the amps to let us know teacher would not play second banana to pupil/headliner Trent Reznor. The camera cruelly zooming in on Murphy’s bald spot could not distract us from the magnificence that was his muttonchop sideburns. “I dare you to be real,” he growled during the opening of “Double Dare,” which gave way to the fast and furious “In the Flat Field.” Not to be outdone, Ash took his solo turn atop a platform with his sax and just killed, bagged and tagged a mostly instrumental version of “In Fear of Fear.” This is the kind of primal, unmitigated noise that grasshopper Reznor couldn’t surpass even in his worst nightmare. “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” and the T. Rex and Bowie covers went missing, which suited us fine, since “Dark Entries” — speedier than Sabbath, with no way out — is the kind of high for which there is no rehab. After that, it was just the blindness and tinnitus more commonly known as the Nine Inch Nails experience. For the first half of the performance, Reznor and the band were mere silhouettes behind smoke and an illuminated caged screen, yet we could glimpse the sweat glistening on Reznor’s meaty, manly forearms.

We couldn’t get images of wildlife on the attack out of our heads after NIN’s Hollywood Bowl show last fall, but Reznor outdid himself here with a light display of bursting clouds morphing into floating blood cells. A grab bag of all five albums, the set kicked off with “You Know What You Are?,” one of the standouts on the current With Teeth. The slow “Something I Can Never Have” was a surprise, but a few choice cuts off Pretty Hate Machine, including “Down in It” and “Terrible Lie,” are always a must. (Twiggy Ramirez — sorry, Jeordie White — even had some fun on the mike, playfully singing “Rain, rain go away/Come again some other day.”)

Johnny Cash’s swan-song version of “Hurt” forever transformed the already brutal opus into a devastating listen, but we could happily watch Reznor behind his piano, sweat dripping from his nose like a leaky faucet, all night. Even more poignant was the moment Reznor and guitar-swinging Aaron North stood face-to-face and their necks seemed to intertwine, their heads resting on each other’s shoulders. We know Reznor goes through his axmen like tissue paper, but this looked like real love to us.

Now, no two-legged being can resist dancing to the almost identical drum lines of “Wish” and “March of the Pigs” — and if it’s not written in stone that they’re the favorites of any and all NIN fans, someone should start chiseling away. As condom balloons bounced, the smell of clove cigarettes and weed subsided, and pleather stretched as far as the eye could see, the evening culminated in “Head Like a Hole,” during which we bowed down before the one we serve. Yes, happiness can be found in slavery.

—Siran Babayan

LA Weekly