Nails pound as tour ends

It was as if all that self-doubt was made of the same stuff as the dry ice that cloaked the stage in a thick shroud of fog.

Trent Reznor’s angst goes down hard, but dissipates easily, wafting away right before your very eyes.

The Nine Inch Nails frontman lives to be an irritant, the lye on your flesh.

He picks at his scabs and punishes eardrums like unruly stepchildren.

But in concert, all the equivocation and inner turmoil that comes at you on his records like the snow in an avalanche quickly melts away into pools of sweat and adrenaline.

He’s a commanding presence, his beefy biceps flexed at hard right angles as he strangles his mic stand like some mortal foe.

None of the uncertainty, the emotional turbulence of his repertoire is visible in his hulking frame as he sings with his fists in the air, exorcising the demons that haunt his tunes.

He becomes a new man, really.

"You chip away at the old version of you," he sang during a ruminative "Echoplex" in a packed Planet Hollywood Theatre for the Performing Arts on Saturday. "You’d be surprised at what you can do."

But Reznor doesn’t just chip away at his past. He stuffs a hand grenade into its maw and shoves it off the nearest overpass.

As such, he comes across as being someone who’s defined by redefinition.

"This is not my face, and this is not my life," he noted on the equally bracing and beatific "Head Down." "And there is not a single thing here that I can recognize."

Live, Reznor and company work diligently to make some of their best-known material similarly hard to identify, and to great effect.

Guitarist Robin Finck, back at Reznor’s side after a stint in Guns N’ Roses unleashed loud squalls of dissonance at will, harnessing white noise to blacken the eyes of tunes like "Letting You" and "Gave Up," the latter of which was merciless in its percussive thrush.

The band consistently pushed the needle into the red on songs like "March of the Pigs," which pulsed with more testosterone than an NFL locker room. Fan favorite "Terrible Lie," a slinky, electronic kiss off in its original form, positively grew tusks live, with drummer Josh Freese swinging his elbows high above his head and Reznor screaming himself hoarse.

But it wasn’t all gnashed teeth and curled lips.

Midway through the show, the band aired a trio of selections from the more moody, subdued and textured "Ghosts I-IV" instrumental album released earlier in the year.

With Reznor playing the xylophone, backed by rows of chimes and a mammoth wall of lysergic graphics projected onto a dazzling metal screen worthy of some futuristic James Cameron flick, the group poked and prodded its way through a lush landscape of sound, eventually segueing into a languid "Piggy."

It was a lot to take in and pointedly provocative at times, such as when video footage of two men having sex in a bathroom was shown during "Survivalism."

But mostly this night was about Nine Inch Nails hurling themselves against the sonic barrier, and even excellent opening act The Bug joined the fray, with the co-ed grime/hip-hop/dub/noise duo pairing fleet-tongued rhymes with coruscating beats that exploded like over-inflated balloons.

This was the last stop of Nine Inch Nails’ "Lights Over North America" tour, and they absolutely went for broke, turning in the kind of climactic performance that results in plenty of sore muscles the following day.

It was only toward the show’s conclusion, during the encore, that a touch of levity entered the picture.

"I have to figure out how I can get this up in my house, so I can watch porn," Reznor quipped, gazing up at the giant projection screen.

This was also the final show with Nine Inch Nails’ current line-up, and Reznor bid farewell to Freese and keyboardist Alessandro Cortini.

And so, in the end, it all felt like the preface to a new beginning.

"As your time is running out, let me take away your doubt," Reznor sang on a set ending "In This Twilight." "You can find a better place."

And he sounded like a man who has already done just that.

Contact Jason Bracelin at 383-0476 or e-mail him at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com.

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