Though Nine Inch Nails peaked creatively and commercially in the mid-1990s, Trent Reznor's post-millennial releases have consistently delivered on the pioneering industrial/techno sound that made him a hit on alternative radio back in the day. Even if The Fragile and With Teeth weren't quite as good as Pretty Hate Machine, The Downward Spiral, or what I consider to be the perfect NIN release, Broken, one thing that remained as amazing as it had ever been was the band's live show. Both kinetic and chaotic on stage, Reznor and his crew have always created an impressive spectacle, and in the concert arena, even songs that had been tepid on record came alive.
Nine Inch Nails Live - Beside You In Time captures the band on the road in the winter of 2006. Having previously set the high watermark for all concert DVDs with the And All That Could Have Been set, my expectations for Beside You In Time were going to be a lot to live up to. Judged in comparison, Beside You In Time is not all it could have been, it just doesn't feel like as much of an event or offer the innovation. But then, that's probably unfair, as it does have some super cool bonuses, and when the main movie is judged on its own merits, Beside You In Time reveals itself as a solid document of a band secure in their creative powers.
I guess there are two main things I look at when I judge a concert film. First is how it's shot, second is song selection.
Beside You In Time takes a pretty standard approach to filming the concert, but the director/editor, Rob Sheridan (who also did And All That Could Have Been and the "Hand that Feeds" video), makes some nice choices about framing and angles that help make the energy of the show palpable for the home audience. He obviously knows the show fairly well, and so he's there when Trent jumps up on a riser or in "With Teeth" when he disappears to the back to play the piano. That actually is maybe the most memorable image of Beside You In Time, the silhouette of Reznor bathed in a jagged green spotlight while he fingers the keys. The other band members are constantly moving, jumping, spinning, and make a grand spectacle of themselves, and though the focus is mainly on the singer, we catch enough of the other musicians to give us a sense of just how much activity is going on. Also, Sheridan isn't afraid to pull back so that we can see the moody lights presentation in full view. During the four songs where NIN performs behind a transparent display screen, the camera moves in and around the screen rather nicely, showing the performers and the images projected in front of them with equal measure. When the sheet drops at the end of "Behind You In Time," done in conjunction with an on-stage action from Reznor, it's probably one of the coolest uses of visual props I've seen in any concert.
As for the second element, the song selection, I'd say Beside You In Time has a fairly well-designed set list. A handful of old favorites pepper the new selections being showcased, giving us a full view of the band's career.
The full set list:
It's no surprise that the more familiar numbers come off stronger (and if you're not familiar with some of the titles, the production crew handily announces each song on screen for you). "Wish" is pretty damn amazing, and there is no other way for NIN to cap their shows than by trotting out "Head Like a Hole." With Teeth's lead single "The Hand That Feeds" actually makes for a perfect lead-in to "Head," upping the energy but also being a little more all over the place as far as time signatures and structure, reminding me of "March of the Pigs," which also gets a memorable outing here. Another highlight is "Terrible Lie," which still maintains its ferocity after all these years. I think the only song that has worn out its welcome is "Closer." I just can't get excited for it anymore. It's become such a cliché unto itself, it's not really daring any longer, and its inclusion feels more mandatory than passionate.
The show also lags some in the middle, as a few slower, dirge-like numbers are placed together in one lump, dropping the momentum considerably. After the DVD's title track peters out, "With Teeth" ends the cycle and immediately pulls the concert out of its slump. It's another of NIN's songs that is made up of a lot of jumbled parts, and it sets the stage for the intensity of "Wish" and "Only." When things do slow down again, it's for the formidable "Hurt," a song that towers in its pain. Reznor still wrenches all the anguish out of it he can, and the effort is met with cell phones and cigarette lighters being held aloft by the crowd. Even the formidable Johnny Cash was unable to best Trent when it comes to this particular slice of angst.
I don't really want to complain about Nine Inch Nails Live - Beside You In Time. It's an excellent package and a really good show. I guess if I have a problem, it's just that the release feels a tad bit cursory. After the specialness of the band's previous concert release, with the bonus CD and the easter eggs and everything, I would have liked them to up the ante a bit more. Instead, Beside You In Time is just what it is--a good concert film. That's fine enough, and I'm happy with it, but for a band we expect to lead the technological charge, I expect better. (Though, they did release the disc in Blu-Ray and HD, and you can check DVD Talk's sections for both to see how Nine Inch Nails fared in the format wars.)
While the main concert covers the With Teeth winter tour, other songs are available in the bonus section that were filmed during the previous summer leg. Out of these five, three are not in the set list for the winter show, which makes it an even nicer addition:
As I noted, the audio options for the extra songs are the same as on the main show, but the picture quality does take a noticeable dip. There is plenty of artifacting in the summer tour footage, though it doesn't ruin the extras by any means. There are also some fuzzy edges, but those seem to be a result of there being more light displays on the stage. The same fuzzyiness carries over to the three songs from rehearsal sessions, but I would actually guess that's because these songs might have been shot for the web. The footage is of the band in a studio running through the following tracks:
Again, three more songs we don't get otherwise, so the bonuses really stack up as bonuses, not just alternate takes of selections we've already heard. Also mixed in here are the videos for "The Hand that Feeds" and "Only," both of which are fairly uninspired. "Hand" looks like it could have come out of the same sessions as the rehearsals, and I am not sure making your video look like it was shot for Quicktime viewing on YouTube qualifies as a "style." As for "Only," it uses objects in an office to perform the song, with Trent appearing on one of those things where a bunch of nails are on a board and when you push them it makes a shape of your hand or face or whatever you press into it. I don't know what it's called, but it's a shtick that loses its charm over the course of a whole song.
Finally, there are some non-video/song-based bonuses. For true NIN enthusiasists, there is a full discography of all the band's releases, presented in order of their catalogue number, which fans will recognize as the Halo listings. (This DVD is Halo 22.) You get art and a list of the tracks on each release. There is also a stills gallery and tests to optimize the image and audio before viewing Beside You In Time.
The packaging for the DVD is a cardboard sleeve with a plastic tray. A folded sheet/booklet is also inside in its own sheath.