Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
Note: all the text that appears between here and my DVD-specific comments duplicates what I wrote in my review of the Dolby Digital edition of and all that could have been.
Because I’m a total geek, I love to catalog and keep track of various statistics related to my hobbies. As such, I maintain a running list of every concert I’ve seen in my life, and I also tally how many times I’ve seen different artists. The elite are those I’ve checked out more than 20 times, a list that includes only four acts. However, there are a few more who make the next tier; their totals run between 10 and 20.
Nine Inch Nails stand as the Roger Maris of this chart. Yes, I’ve seen them 13 times, but I need to place an asterisk next to that total. Eleven of those 13 shows came during their 1995 tour with David Bowie, so I didn’t attend the concerts because of NIN. I bought those tickets strictly for Bowie; NIN didn’t matter to me.
At least that was my attitude at the start of the tour. When I went to my first show - Hershey, PA, on September 17 - I knew almost nothing about NIN. Oh, I was aware of their existence, but my knowledge of the music was null. In fact, it happened that there was a third act on the bill; a now-forgotten band called Prick launched the evening. Since no one announced the group, I assumed they were NIN; I couldn’t understand why the crowd - clearly heavy with NIN fans - showed so little interest in the set!
Because I’m not a total idiot, I figured out my error when NIN actually came on stage a little later. I can’t recall my reaction to that first experience, but I know that I soon started to like the band. By the end of the tour, I was a full-fledged fan who owned all of their albums (and singles, for that matter); NIN became my fave rave for the final few months of 1995.
I’ve kept up my interest in the band since then, though I must admit my ardor had cooled by the time their next endeavor appeared in 1999 with a new album called The Fragile. Actually, for the record, the term “band” when used in conjunction with NIN is something of a misnomer. For all intents and purposes, the group is one person: Trent Reznor. Other folks come and go, but it’s his baby to the bone.
Anyway, Trent works very slowly, so The Fragile was NIN’s first full album since 1994’s breakthrough release The Downward Spiral. Along with a star-making performance at that year’s Woodstock festival, NIN became absolutely huge, which is part of the reason we Bowie fans were badly outnumbered at those 1995 concerts. However, the fan-base dissipated to some degree over the years, partially because Trent stayed on the sidelines. NIN produced a few small pieces during 1996-1998, but for the most part, they remained out of the public eye.
That’s not because Trent sat back and basked in the afterglow of success. Instead, it occurred because Trent works very slowly. As of early 2002, NIN have released four full albums of new material. They started with 1988’s Pretty Hate Machine but didn’t put out another full record until Spiral. Yes, we got Broken in 1991; however, it was more of an EP than a full-fledged release, as it included only a handful of songs.
Trent tried to make up for the slow pace with the scope of The Fragile. The double-CD set was truly an epic set. However, more isn’t always better, and the album may have suffered from excess. Personally, I thought The Fragile had some excellent moments, but the overall piece left me a little cold; it’s very hard to produce that much material for one album and have all of it work.
Nonetheless, I looked forward to the upcoming NIN tour, and as I already noted, I took in two shows: a local show in Columbia MD, and also their Philly concert. Overall, I found these to be good performances. I don’t think I agreed with Rolling Stone’s assessment of it as the best tour of the year, but it worked quite well as it mixed the old and the new nicely.
Dubbed “Fragility v2.0” - an earlier jaunt overseas was “Fragility 1.0” - we find documentation of the trek on and all that could have been< the first-ever NIN DVD. As I’ve already established, Reznor’s not exactly a “hands-off” kind of guy, and he took the full reins for this piece. Essentially he produced it himself and was heavily involved in both the visual and sonic aspects.
and all doesn’t come from one concert alone. Instead, Trent had roughly two dozen shows taped on mini DV and the results were combined for the program. Pearl Jam’s Touring Band 2000 followed a similar path but in a different way. It would show one song from one concert and then another song from a different performance, and so on. and all, however, mixes and matches to a much higher degree. We see elements from different concerts within the same song. God knows how many cuts between performances occur, but I’d estimate a lot.
This creates one of the DVD’s main concerns, though it’s fairly minor. At times, the sound and the picture don’t match up tremendously well, and this could take me out the production. It seems especially ironic, for Trent has said how badly he wanted the video to make you feel like you’re at a concert. To a great degree, it does this fairly well, but the pastiche of elements could create a distancing effect at times.
Despite all of the cuts and patches, and all represents a full concert circa the 2000 tour. Unlike that year’s treks from Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen, NIN’s outing offered a fairly consistent setlist. An examination of the various shows demonstrates a mix of alterations, but these remained pretty minor; a few songs came and went, but 95% of the show stayed the same from night to night.
As such - unlike Touring Band 2000 and Bruce’s Live In New York City - and all largely communicates the concert; it runs a song or two shorter than the typical 19 or 20 song performance, but it comes close to a full set. (That’s not a slam on the PJ or Bruce projects, by the way; they’re excellent, but it’d be impossible for one video to totally capture either act’s shows, since both altered their setlists so much.) Not surprisingly, “Fragility v2.0” favored material from The Fragile, as eight of the DVD’s 18 tunes came from that album. Oddly, one of the Fragile songs that showed up virtually every night - the first single, “The Day the World Went Away” - doesn’t appear on and all; its omission seems extremely odd.
As for the remaining 10 songs on the DVD, they represent a mix of earlier work. We get three tracks from NIN’s debut, Pretty Hate Machine: “Terrible Lie”, “Sin” and “Head Like a Hole”. Three more tunes show up from Broken: “Gave Up”, “Wish” and “Suck”. The final four numbers all come from Spiral: “March of the Pigs”, “Piggy”, “Closer” and “Hurt”. Except for “Suck”, none of those songs comes as a surprise; they’re all some of the band’s better-known pieces.
Not that this is a complaint about their inclusion; I don’t expect NIN to put on a show the entirely consists of obscurities, and “Fragility v2.0” blended the two sides well. Of course, I’d make some changes if it were up to me, mainly to use alternate versions. 1995’s Further
Down the Spiral offered remixed takes of many Downward tracks. Trent just can’t let go of his material; of the four NIN albums, only Machine didn’t produce a subsequent collection of remixes. (Above and beyond the different renditions found on singles, of course; there are a slew of Machine remixes available in that manner. However, Reznor never produced a full album of exclusive reworkings based on Machine, which he did do for the subsequent three records; in addition to Further, we got Fixed in 1992 and Things Falling Apart in 2000.)
Anyway, the remix of “Piggy” found on Further is superior to the album version, and I also prefer the single’s alternate rendition of “Closer”; entitled “Closer to God”, that track is a lot more powerful than the original. I’m not surprised that Trent went back to the source cuts for the “Fragility v2.0” takes, however; he played the alternate versions extensively during the 1995 concerts, so he likely wanted to do something different. (Ironically - and annoyingly - the high-quality unofficial recording I have of the 1995 show comes from one of the few in which NIN played “Closer” instead of “Closer to God”. I can’t win!)
Otherwise, I don’t have any complaints about the setlist found on and all, excepting the omission of staple “World”. and all represents the show NIN put on in 2000, and it does so reasonably well. Although Trent proclaimed that he wanted the DVD to show what it was really like to attend a concert, in truth that’s really impossible. Some live videos better depict the experience than others, but none accurately replace the real thing, and they never will.
and all offers a good version of the live experience; it’s not the best I’ve seen, but it’s a solid representation. NIN are tougher to duplicate on video than many acts. On one hand, we want a program that looks reasonably clear and vivid, but on the other, it shouldn’t be too slick or it’ll feel wrong for their style. Apparently amateurs with consumer-grade equipment shot the entire program, but since they taped so many shows, the artistic deficiencies become minimized; Reznor and director Rob Sheridan had so many images from which to choose that they were able to find good material for each song.
Part of me wishes that Reznor would use a professional crew to record the concerts, but I know that won’t happen. He’s indicated that he tried this during the tour behind Spiral and was extremely unhappy with the results, which he felt looked like “a Bon Jovi pay-per-view on HBO”. I think it’d be interesting to see what more seasoned people could do with the shows, though I agree that the final product would probably look very unlike what we expect from NIN.
As such, the presentation seen on and all is probably the best compromise we could get. To be sure, the production doesn’t really look like non-professionals made it. Part of this might result from the infinite monkeys on infinite typewriters theory; considering how much footage they filmed, it seemed likely that a lot of good material would emerge. And it’s not like actual chimps ran the cameras. I probably should not emphasize the amateur nature of the cameramen to such a degree, although Trent seems to take pride in the fact it was such a “DIY” job; like him, I don’t regard the non-professional nature of the operators to be a bad thing, especially because the result doesn’t seem unprofessional.
As I’ll discuss in the DVD-specific section of this review, and all suffers from some visual problems that seem to relate to the equipment used. Perhaps the inexperience of the camera operators also played a part, though I’d assume that focus for this piece was pretty much point and shoot, so that shouldn’t have been an issue; softness was the only problem I saw that could have been affected by the recorders, and I doubt they used manual focus.
In any case, and all provides a good representation of NIN live circa 2000. The editing varies from semi-chaotic to relatively tranquil and reserved depending on the material. Actually, the cutting is surprisingly reserved during some of the wilder tunes; the camera angles can fly fast and furious, but they don’t take this to the extreme some might choose, so the editing always serves the songs, and not vice versa.
NIN shows can definitely get out of control, but Trent seems to have calmed down considerably since earlier tours. I rewatched the video of Closure - which includes footage from the Spiral treks - and was somewhat astonished to remember just how violent he’d be onstage. The audiences contributed as well; the clip for “March of the Pigs” looked like a lawsuit waiting to happen! Trent really turned into Mr. Self-Destruct at times, though Mr. Instrument-Destruct might be more appropriate; the stage often looked like a war zone.
Such calamity doesn’t show up during and all, but don’t expect a Natalie Merchant performance. Trent and the band remain wired much of the time, though the concert includes some of NIN’s most tranquil works such as “The Frail” and “La Mer” from The Fragile. Of course, peacefulness is relative, as “La Mer” gets more raucous toward its end. (For the record, Trent’s always had some soft side, dating back to Pretty Hate Machine’s “Something I Can Never Have”, and the generally subdued “Hurt” remains one of the group’s most popular tracks. Despite the quieter tones, however, the lyrical content stayed edgy, so I don’t think we have to worry Trent’ll become some sort of pop softy anytime soon.)
Nine Inch Nails are not and never will be a band that could enjoy true mass popularity. They became an arena-caliber act because of a rabid fan base, but they’re far too harsh and edgy to ever enter the mainstream. That’s a good thing, for while I don’t think there’s anything wrong with tremendous success, some artists just make more sense within the smaller confines.
Really, the only problem with this is that a lot of people likely dismiss NIN immediately as just another loud and talentless angst band. To be sure, a lot of pretenders tried to hop on the industrial bandwagon and churned out material that bore superficial resemblances to NIN’s work except Reznor’s music was good and the copycats sucked. Occasional friend/collaborator Marilyn Manson mined similar ground to good result, but the vast majority of the others have seemed like nothing more than Trent wannabes.
Unfortunately, none of them possess similar talent. It’ll be interesting to see where Reznor goes in future work. Once when I bought a NIN album at a store, the proprietor seemed vaguely disgusted. Part of his problem with NIN stemmed from the fact that he couldn’t see Trent doing the same thing forever; what, was he still gonna bellow “I want to fuck you like an animal” when he’s 60?
The storeowner’s point was valid to a degree, as angst has a certain shelf life. Teens and other fairly young folk will always dig such material, and even old fogies like myself can get off on the adrenaline release of pent-up negative emotions that comes along with NIN. However, public anger’s a game for the young; when I’m 60, I might still want to vent my spleen in such a way, but I don’t think it’d look good for me to do it in front of a seething mosh pit of teens.
I can’t speak for Trent, of course, so I don’t know what he seems himself doing in another couple of decades. Essentially where I’m going with this is to express that whatever path he takes, I can actually envision him branching away from the aggro-path of past work and going with something less overtly violent. He’s made gestures in that direction already, especially since The Fragile was notably mellower than prior albums. Of course, this is all relative; most of the record would still scare most people.
But my main problem with the thoughts of that record store owner revolve around this: wherever NIN go in the future is irrelevant from the point of view that the music works now. I don’t know if I’ll be a fan forever, but I do regard my interest in the band as something of an indicator of excessive maturity. Frankly, there are some things that I don’t ever want to outgrow, and I feel that if I ever think NIN are too loud, profane, outrageous, or whatever, then I’m too old. Yeah, I do hope I’m still shouting “gotta listen to your big-time, hard-line, bad-luck FIST FUCK!” when I’m in my wheelchair. (Granted, the way I’m going, this’ll probably happen by the time I’m 38.)
My point, if I have one? Nine Inch Nails ROCK!
For a dissenting opinion, feel free to consult my oldest dog Oat. Likely because I spent a little too much time shouting lines like the one above while in her presence, she leaves the room whenever I play NIN. Happily, her nine-month-old sister Biscuits shows no such negative associations. In fact, the little moron seems to dig it when I get in her face. Oat’s my favorite, but Bisc may end up as my badass rock ‘n’ roll poodle!