N.Y.C. Shows Worth the Ticket
Nine Inch Nails, Manhattan Transfer, Go-Go's, Joe Jackson appeal to varying crowds
NINE INCH NAILS
Madison Square Garden, New York
If you have an adolescent in the house, no doubt you have heard of Nine Inch Nails, currently the favorite band among young people (with the possible exception of Green Day).
For certain, today's parents will be as disturbed by this band's brand of violent nihilism as parents 30 years ago were rattled by Elvis and the Beatles.
Of course, there is a difference. Elvis didn't sing about death and destruction, and the Beatles didn't perform behind a screen with filmed images of decaying animal corpses and dead plants. But the hysteria, as evidenced by the group's recent shows at Madison Square Garden, is the same.
Much has been made over the out-of-kilter sensibilities of lead singer and sole creative force Trent Reznor (he lives in the house in Los Angeles where the Manson murders occurred). But he has clearly touched a nerve with his growing audiences, and the band's powerful performance was one of the highlights of Woodstock '94.
At the Garden, Reznor displayed his charisma and his use of common rock traditions, such as destroying hapless musical instruments (he pummeled a keyboard into oblivion). The music, much of it taken from the band's hit CD ``The Downward Spiral'' (Interscope), is a powerful blend of hard rock, industrial, and even dance rhythms that packs an undeniable punch, especially at the crushing volume level with which it was performed. But the music has enough genuine hooks and melodies to lift it beyond the sledgehammer mode.
The lyrics, meanwhile, convey a view of life that is relentlessly brutal. Reznor didn't move around much; he rather settled into a grim-faced posture and let his voice and music convey the intensity. Meanwhile, the entire front section of the orchestra had been cleared of seats to form a giant mosh pit, and the kids were slamming themselves silly.
Lincoln Center, New York
In what has become a perennial holiday treat, the vocal group Manhattan Transfer does a holiday tour in which they perform Christmas music as well as their own hits. Probably the most acclaimed and commercially successful vocal ensemble ever, the group, performing at Lincoln Center, demonstrated that they have lost none of their swinging harmonic ability.
Although the show could have used a bit more Christmas spirit (the stage was bare and the group seem disgruntled when some paltry ``snowflakes'' were dusted on their heads), a festive time was had by all - particularly when they worked their way through such classics as ``Route 66,'' ``Birdland'' (their signature song), and yuletide favorites, lovingly rendered, like ``The Christmas Song'' and ``Silent Night.''
Academy, New York
`Who remembers the 1980s? Who remembers new wave?'' asked guitarist Jane Weidlin during the Go-Go's recent performance in New York. A lot of people, apparently, enough to fill the large club to capacity. The band, whose pop rock hits were a staple on radio during their brief reign in the early part of the decade, have re-formed to promote their new greatest-hits collection, ``Return to the Valley of the Go-Go's'' (IRS).
This girl-group wasn't always wholesome. Lead singer Belinda Carlisle pointed out, ``A long time ago we used to be a punk band, but then we sold out for the big bucks.'' Their roots were evident in their tight set, which reprised most of their hits as well as several decent new songs. They also played several punkish songs from their early years, as well as the Ramones' ``I Wanna Be Sedated.''
With Gina Shock pounding the way on drums, the band ripped through their repertoire, including ``We Got the Beat,'' ``Our Lips Are Sealed,'' ``Vacation,'' ``This Town,'' and others. One was reminded of just how good these tuneful, catchy pop songs are.
Jane Weidlin is still an impish figure on guitar, trading wisecracks throughout. Kathy Valentine provided solid work on bass, and for this tour, a pregnant Charlotte Caffey has been replaced by Vicki Peterson, whom you may remember from another prominent girl-group, the Bangles.
Lead singer Carlisle was clearly in good spirits, tossing off her shoes after the first number and generally acting the clown. Proudly declaring that she is no longer just a singer, she whipped out a toy xylophone, on which she performed a solo version of ``I Am Woman.'' The playfulness reflected the music's sense of fun.
Beacon Theatre, New York
Although he hasn't been a chart staple since the early '80s, British pop song stylist Joe Jackson has been releasing quality albums for the last 15 years, changing his style with chameleon-like consistency. His newest release, ``Night Music,'' probably won't snare him a hit, since it is a somber collection of songs and instrumental nocturnes. It also isn't particularly easy music to perform live.
But the singer gives it a go on his current theater tour. Performing on an acoustic grand piano, and backed by only three musicians, Jackson performs much of the new release, as well as random songs from throughout his career, most obscure and some radically reinterpreted. It is, perhaps, more of a show for the serious Jackson fan than the novice, but it offers many musical pleasures.
Ignoring requests from the audience (``No, we decide''), and performing without a set list, the singer was clearly not trying to curry favor.
Sometimes the show would try anyone's patience, as when he played recordings of instrumental tracks from the new album while offstage.
He did play rearranged versions or fragments of such hits as ``Is She Really Going Out With Him,'' ``Breakin' Us in Two,'' and ``Steppin' Out,'' and as an encore, performed ``I'm a Man'' and played guitar (none too well). But his heart was clearly in the new music, and in such songs as ``The Man Who Wrote Danny Boy'' and ``Ever After'' he has written some of his most beautiful melodies.
This was a show to celebrate Joe Jackson the musician and composer, not the pop star.