Where does Trent Reznor fit into the world circa 2007? The movement which gave him such runaway success is long dead, and the release of his gargantuan double album The Fragile pretty much assured that the only people that would follow his career would be his die-hard fans. Despite this, his 2005 release With Teeth sounded more poppy than anything Nine Inch Nails has ever done. The singles, "The Hand That Feeds" and "Only You," sound about one busty female vocalist away from a stab at the pop charts.
But does it really matter? Clearly Reznor is making music for himself by himself, and if anyone wants to come along, they're welcome. Perhaps more important than the album With Teeth was the fact that Reznor assembled a band and toured under the Nine Inch Nails name to support the record. For a band in NIN's position (that is, playing to only a core audience), the only way to attract back all the people who stopped listening is to put on a great live show. And the buzz around the support tour for With Teeth was that it was a pretty awesome spectacle.
Which leads us to Beside You In Time, the live document of that tour, in full HD glory. This was my first major exposure to Nine Inch Nails since I bought The Fragile back in 1999. The good news is that the performance displayed here is as vibrant and energetic as everything I had heard. The bad news is that a good concert does not equal a good concert movie.
Trent Reznor has visibly changed since I last paid attention. He looks more like Henry Rollins than Trent Reznor, but one thing that hasn't changed is his fondness for darkness. The majority of this concert is pitch black, with white lights flashing intermittently. While this probably looked awesome in person, on video it's frustrating. While most concert films go out of their way to make you feel like you're right next to the performers, this one keeps you at arm's distance, making it less engaging.
But as appropriate as my doom and gloom is to the material at hand, I'm not predicting the end of the world. There are some definite positive points to the show. As I said before, the energy in this show is so intense, at times it looks like Trent Reznor's neck is going to burst open, gushing blood all over the audience (who probably would have loved it). When Reznor performs "Head Like A Hole" or "Wish," you can feel the seething anger that he can barely keep at bay. And when he tones things down for "Hurt," you can hear it's more than just a rote performance. The band also go absolutely crazy. They leap over each other, smash their guitars, and basically live out all the fantasies anyone would have playing industrial music to an arena full of screaming fans.
Even the newer, less impressive songs like "Only" or "The Hand That Feeds" get a new lease on life when performed by the band. As performers, Nine Inch Nails are still on top of their game, if not better than ever. As a concert recording, Beside You In Time is pretty mediocre. But if you're a NIN fan, this is going to be essential. If you ever liked the group and fell off the bandwagon, or are just curious as to what all the hubbub is about, this isn't a bad place to turn either.
The full track listing of the concert is as follows:
"Love Is Not Enough"
"You Know What You Are?"
"The Line Begins To Blur"
"March of the Pigs"
"Something I Can Never Have"
"Right Where It Belongs"
"Beside You In Time"
"The Big Come Down"
"The Hand That Feeds"
"Head Like A Hole"
The Blu-ray Disc:
Beside You In Time was filmed in 1080p/30, and for technical reasons is flagged as 1080i, but the material is in fact 1080p. No matter what resolution it actually is, this 1.77:1 VC-1 transfer is a mixed bag. At its best, we get excellent detail (imagine counting the drops of sweat on Reznor's shaved head, because now you can!) and it shows off some really dynamic material that would have become a pixelated mush on HD cable. Considering that most of the show is deep blacks contrasted with pure whites, the fact that the juxtaposition of the two happens at breakneck pace without a single artifact is a testament to how good this disc can look. However, I did notice some severe posterization and artifacting when the multicolored lights reared their ugly heads. Unfortunately, some songs revolved around these lights. It's a shame, but not every transfer can be absolutely perfect. As far as this disc compares to the HD DVD version, technically the Blu-ray is encoded with a slightly higher bitrate. However, I could detect no difference in the final product. Proof that both formats are capable of delivering exactly the same imagery.
Anyone who has even a passing knowledge of Nine Inch Nails probably know that Trent Reznor is one of the most adept sonic sculptors in the music business. And while Reznor did not create the Dolby True HD 5.1 mix presented here, he might as well have, because it's one of the most dynamic and impressive mixes I've ever heard. I've long been a proponent of lossless mixes for concerts, since the audio is obviously the most important part, and Beside You In Time does not disappoint. Every speaker is constantly active, either with audience noise or with specific instruments. And since this is industrial music, the bass is always rumbling. In short, you have to hear this disc. Noticeably absent from this disc, yet present on the HD DVD, is a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. However, Blu-ray players can extract a lossy DD mix from a True HD track, making a separate DD mix redundant.
In the Blu-ray version of this disc, there is some footage you can access while watching the main concert using an interactive feature. This feature is absent on the HD DVD. All of the footage is available on the other disc, but not in an interactive form.
Beside You In Time is a chronicle of Nine Inch Nail's winter 2006 tour, and as a bonus, we get to see five songs performed from the summer leg of the same tour. We get:
"Help Me I Am In Hell"
These are all in 1080, but they're very poorly compressed, with artifacts all over.
We get to see live rehearsals of "The Collector," "Every Day Is Exactly The Same," and "Love Is Not Enough." These are in 480p and provide that close-up view of the band that the main feature denies to us.
We get 480p music videos of "The Hand That Feeds" and "Only." Both are fairly wretched.
Finally, we get a stills gallery.
Beside You In Time is not a perfect document of Nine Inch Nail's latest tour. However, since Reznor's audience has essentially been whittled down to its core, what matters more than the technical execution are the performances, which are all explosive. On top of it, we get a reference lossless audio track and some strong supplements. Recommended.
Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.