Saturday, June 23, 2007

Trent Reznor & Peter Murphy - Live Radio Shows 2006

I first got in to Nine Inch Nails in middle school, presumably from the influence of my sisters. The band and its core member, Trent Reznor, remained near the top of my list of favorite artists until mid-highschool, when I explored the post-punk scene that I now adore. That's not to say I don't like their/his old music; I still spin it now and then, it's just that other things have stolen my primary interest, such as Bauhaus, and by extension, their lead singer and later a semi-successful solo artist, Peter Murphy.

Then, in 2005, something wonderful happened. Bauhaus reunited to play a series of concerts (which I missed, but my old friend Julius did not, and he kindly lent me a recording of the Boston show he saw), and they had enough fun to do a second tour, sharing the bill with Nine Inch Nails. This wasn't the first time NIN had shared a bill with one of Reznor's favorite artists: in 1995, he shared the stage with David Bowie, who was touring his Brian Eno-produced album Outside.

I found that cool but didn't think too much of the NIN part until I started hanging out with Keagan, who reminded me about the band and their new records. My interest still wasn't entirely piqued until I caught word of a small set of radio shows the two bands did together.

I had heard rumor that during concerts the two lead singers would sometimes sing each others' songs, but I found no proof until I found a bootleg of the four radio shows the two did together. Sure enough, the two musicians sing each other's songs and play some oddball and/or fun covers on top of it all.


Artist: Trent Reznor and Peter Murphy, with guests

Session 1: 99x, Atlanta, Georgia, June 7, 2006
1. Head Like a Hole [originally by Nine Inch Nails]
2. Sanity Assassin [originally by Bauhaus]
3. Hurt [originally by Nine Inch Nails]

Session 2: DC101, Washington, DC, June 13, 2006, with TV on the Radio (the tour's opening act)
1. Dreams [originally by TV on the Radio]
2. Final Solution [Pere Ubu cover, previously covered by Peter Murphy]
3. Bela Lugosi's Dead [originally by Bauhaus]

Session 3: WBCN, Boston, Massachusetts, June 23, 2006, with Jeordie White and Atticus Ross (NIN's bassist and programmer/producer, respectively)
1. Reptile [originally by Nine Inch Nails] → Haunted When the Minutes Drag [Love & Rockets cover]
2. Warm Leatherette [The Normal cover]
3. Strange Kind of Love [originally by Peter Murphy]
4. Nightclubbing [Iggy Pop cover]

Session 4: First Midwest Bank Amphitheater, Chicago, Illinois, July 1, 2006, with the full NIN touring band
1. Dead Souls [Joy Division cover, previously covered by Nine Inch Nails]
2. Twenty Four Hours [Joy Division cover]
3. Warsaw [Joy Division cover]
4. Atmosphere [Joy Division cover]

Analysis:
These shows rock. The performances are all solid and the song choice could not be better. Most renditions are cleverly redone, and the singers do indeed trade songs. This is a one-of-a-kind thing. I will discuss individual tracks at length.

"Head Like a Hole" is done much slower and electronically, and Murphy does lead vocals. The original recording is sampled a few times. This song is a bit disarming as an opener – I find it less impressive than most of the later songs they do. It's still very interesting, but I guess the whole first set just isn't quite as fascinating as the later three shows.

"Sanity Assassin" was originally a somewhat obscure Bauhaus song, but Reznor sings and does a very electronic rendition. Murphy sings backup, but I don't know what else he's doing in the performance. "Hurt" is done with no samples or electronics, just Murphy's voice and Reznor's keyboard. It's not too exciting, but it is yet another rendition of the now-famous song. [Edit 2016.05.12: This version of "Hurt" was released as a single by Murphy in 2009.]

I don't know much about TV on the Radio, but "Dreams" is a cool song. (Side note: when I saw The Faint live in 2004, TV on the Radio was the opener on every show of the tour except in Lawrence, Kansas, where I saw them. My sister lent me their Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes album around the same time.) It's fairly post-punk, with some shoegaze-like drones. The original features both of the band's vocalists singing in different octaves, and the version here keeps the original higher vocal sound, but the deeper singer shares his parts with Murphy and Reznor. The shift between all the vocalists only makes the song more dynamic and interesting.

"Final Solution" is a weird Pere Ubu song (but the band itself is weird), and Peter Murphy did a great cover version on his first album in 1986. The version here is somewhere between the original and Murphy's version, but features Reznor on lead vocals. The sound is great - it's full and heavy, which is closer to the original version in some ways. The structure is more like Murphy's cover but this version is just a bit more intense, which works well here. I love some of the song's lyrics, like "Buy me a ticket to a sonic reduction / Guitar's gonna sound like a nuclear destruction" (whereupon the music dead halts for a moment before breaking into the chorus) and "Mama threw me out till I get some pants that fit / She just won't approve of my strange kind of wit". The ending is an extended drone, where the higher TV on the Radio vocalist emulates the wordless vocalizations skillfully.

"Bela Lugosi's Dead" was Bauhaus' first single and typically considered the first goth rock song. The song was nine minutes long (making everyone wonder why it was released as a single), but an edit was featured in The Hunger, starring David Bowie. This version is shortened to about five minutes, but TV on the Radio adds just the right feel of instrumentation and throws in some extra backing vocals for good measure.

"Reptile" was a NIN cover, but this version is sung by Murphy. The bassline is more prominent, but otherwise the song is similar to the original, but instead of the extended instrumental outro, the bass and guitar suddenly start playing Love & Rockets' "Haunted When the Minutes Drag". I love the song, but it's an interesting choice, since Love & Rockets is composed of all the members of Bauhaus except Peter Murphy. This version is even more spacey and droning than the original and has some great e-bow work.

"Warm Leatherette" is a cover of one of The Normal's few songs: the band was basically just Daniel Miller, founder of Mute Records, and he released one single (b/w "T.V.O.D.") and a weird one-sided live album. Murphy sings this version over some dancy electronic instrumentation. (Of note: the song was inspired by J.G. Ballard's Crash, but is not alone in that: The Creatures (a side project of Siouxsie & the Banshees) released a single titled "Miss the Girl" with the same source of inspiration. Grace Jones has done a reggae cover of "Warm Leatherette", to add to the weirdness.)

"Strange Kind of Love" brings a change in mood, as Reznor states; Murphy sings his own song while Reznor or one of his bandmates plays a solo electric guitar, straightforwardly emulating the original version. "Nightclubbing" is one of Iggy Pop's most well-known songs. Murphy sings lead here, which isn't surprising, since he once did a cover of Pop's "Funtime".

The final show is straight Joy Division covers, which ends up working quite well. All four songs done are fairly similar to the original versions, but hearing these musicians do such solid covers is really delightful. Both Murphy and Reznor are clearly fans; Bauhaus covers "Transmission" live these days, and Reznor once covered "Dead Souls". This version follows the NIN cover, but throws some extra e-bow in and is sung by Murphy. Murphy also sings the amped-up versions of "Twenty Four Hours" and "Warsaw" and the wonderfully aptly-named "Atmosphere", which tends to be the fan favorite Joy Division song. (I applaud the choice of overlooking the excellent but well-known and oft-covered "Love Will Tear Us Apart".) [Edit 2016.05.12: Murphy later released a live version of "Transmission" with his own band as a single in 2009.]

 

Review:
Peter Murphy and Trent Reznor are both great musicians; both have been a part of bands that I have considered amongst my favorites. These shows could not have been more skillfully done, with the possible exception of the first, which lacks only a degree of the inspired mood of the other three shows. The song choices are excellent, spanning each musician's career and some of their favorite covers. The renditions are mostly solid; the sound is always great and the concept of trading each other's songs works out very well. My only complaint is that "Hurt" and "Strange Kind of Love" are too plain and lack any of the rearrangement found in the other performances. The Joy Division cover set is a welcome surprise, and although fairly straightforward, nonetheless a worthy tribute.

I highly recommend acquiring the bootleg recordings if you like any of the people involved. They aren't hard to find and the quality and unique nature of the performances make them well worth it. Also, check out the NIN website for video of the second and third radio shows. [Note (2014.06.09): The videos are apparently no longer available on the official website.] [Edit 2016.05.12: The audio recordings are all available on ninlive.com.]

Score: A

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