Nine Inch Nails, Astoria, London

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The Independent Culture

Trent Reznor has certainly always had things to get off his chest.

Trent Reznor has certainly always had things to get off his chest. With little more than a classical piano training and a couple of years' experience as a studio dogsbody under his belt, the 23-year-old Reznor single-handedly made the first Nine Inch Nails album, Pretty Hate Machine, in 1989. Songs such as "Sin" and the MTV favourite "Head like a Hole" set out tableaux of psycho-sexual angst and aggression that struck such a chord with the USA's youth that the album spent the best part of two years in the Billboard chart, and Britain's industrial-music fans were close behind.

The strongly expressed introspection and bitterness of the songs often had Reznor risking sulky-teen-poet posturing, but his facility with musical and lyrical hooks and his unmistakable conviction has secured him the benefit of the doubt in a way that his protégé Marilyn Manson, for example, hasn't always managed. Reznor's quality control is evident in his slow release rate: With Teeth, out next month, will be only the third full studio album in the 16 years since his debut; an EP, remix compilations, a live set and the soundtrack to Natural Born Killers have done a little to stop the gaps.

His inclusion in Time magazine's list of the 25 most influential Americans in 1997 indicates the disproportionate relationship between the volume of his output and his standing in the musical community. There is something about Reznor's work that worms its way into your mind and anchors itself there. The more considered and even, in some cases, optimistic tracks of his last album, The Fragile (1999), a US No 1 and UK Top 10, were initially perplexing after the sustained attack of his previous work, but it markedly expanded Reznor's range.

Nine Inch Nails opened their second London date with the conjoined duo of "The Frail" and "The Wretched", from The Fragile. The titles alone show how close Reznor sails to the wind of pretentiousness. "The Frail" is a pseudo-classical piano track serving as an intro to "The Wretched", and the lights came up to reveal a moody Reznor at the keyboard. The audience enjoyed those openers and the new tracks that followed, but it was not until "March of the Pigs", from the 1994 album The Downward Spiral, several songs into the set, that the crowd-surge came, heralding ferocious moshing largely untroubled by the wrongfooting 7/8 time signature that the track uses.

That was the pattern of the whole show: songs from The Fragile were received politely, but the new numbers were not helped by the Astoria's muddy sound, their subtleties lost. It was the all-out-assault of the early-Nineties work - "Wish", "Gave up", "Closer" - that translated best, sending the crowd into a frenzy.

The nihilistic Reznor of old, epitomised by lyrics such as, "Don't think you're having all the fun/ You know me - I hate everyone", was absent, replaced by a healthy and amiable-looking new model. His abuse of bandmates and audience is a thing of the past; instead, he concentrated on feeling the music wrought by a band that retains only one musician from the Fragility tour of 1999, the versatile and powerful drummer Jerome Dillon.

The chance to see a band of Nine Inch Nails' stature in a relatively intimate venue such as the Astoria almost compensated for the murky and surprisingly quiet PA.

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