Nine Inch Nails/A Perfect Circle

Trent Reznor and Maynard James Keenan gave Kansas Citians something truly memorable this Memorial Day weekend when their bands, Nine Inch Nails and A Perfect Circle, put on perhaps the finest show of the still-new year at Kemper Arena amid the stockyards of the famed West Bottoms. Stylistically, the two bands differ slightly, yet both evoke a strange melodious magic, a vision beyond a need for nookie, and a dedication to craft lost on most of the bully boys practicing harder-edged music these days.

Looking like a cross between Blind Melon’s dearly departed lead singer, Shannon Hoon, and Jim Carrey’s Foghat-loving character from the MTV Movie Awards, Maynard led his new supergroup in a spellbinding set filled with Jane’s Addiction-style psychedelia and Middle-Eastern mysticism. It was as if Peter Murphy of Bauhaus joined Led Zeppelin on a strange trip through “Kashmir” territory. Equal parts heavy metal and ambient ethnomusicology, A Perfect Circle’s eclectic offerings were beyond fantastic.

Considering the crowd has had very little time to get familiar with A Perfect Circle’s CD Mer De Noms, which was released last Tuesday, it showed a surprising amount of enthusiasm for everything the band played, and that is a rarity. Very seldom does an opening act get any kind of respect, let alone rapt attention, and this response is probably the best testament to A Perfect Circle’s power and beauty.

Speaking of power and beauty, Nine Inch Nails took the stage at about 9:20 and slowly went about building the perfect beast. Its members were obscured by a curtain that surrounded the stage throughout the opening number, with only shadowy silhouettes visible until Nine Inch Nails ripped into “Terrible Lie.” Once the curtain rose, fans got a good glimpse at the grimy-looking group, whose members looked as if they engaged in a baby-powder fight after spending the morning mining for coal. Of course, cleanliness is next to godliness, so it’s understandable that the demonic Reznor and company wanted to be on the other side of the spectrum.

One of the many heavenly gifts that Nine Inch Nails offered its worshipping audience was a light show not of this earth. It began with a ring of lights perched dangerously close to the band, which bathed the five musicians in brilliant white and oppressively hedged them all in a display of claustrophobic stagecraft. Later, this high-tech death rig would alter itself again and again, moving from serene video displays of rain falling on water one minute to images of swimmers plunging into depths unknown to footage of an explosive firestorm. It made for great theater, often capturing the audience’s attention regardless of the band performing below. This worked out nicely, as fans seemed unfamiliar with the music — most of which was taken from NIN’s double-album, Fragile — that accompanied this visual-stimulation-intensive segment.

After this introspective portion of the proceedings, Trent went back to playing songs to which everybody could shout along. During NIN’s spirited renditions of the hits “Closer” and “Head like A Hole,” the very foundations of the arena seemed to shake, and all the Hot Topic-shopping Goths worked up a comfortable sweat. However, the band’s depressingly short two-song encore left a lot of fans feeling a bit slighted, as the crowd seemed to want a bigger commitment from its idol. I heard several grumblers discussing Korn’s 20-song set and wishing NIN would have followed suit. But all in all, the evening’s entertainment eclipsed the offerings of all other touring acts thus far, even in its shortened state. A longer show might have left Trent, and many of his fans, feeling fragile, and besides, the truest mark of a showman is to leave them wanting more.

Categories: Music