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This Charming Man

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I went up to Chicago this weekend for Gracie's baby shower, which was a lot of fun, despite the fact that it's a little freaky to me to be going to my friends' baby showers now (weddings were bad enough) and the fact that the ceiling decided to leak on me in the middle of it.

After the baby shower, I went downtown to meet with Marc, who had picked up a pair of tickets to see Morrissey at the Aragon Ballroom.  This was the first time I'd seen Morrissey live and the first time I'd been to the Aragon, and I have to say I was impressed by both.  The couple sitting in front of us in the balcony had seen him quite a few times, and they manged to really make me look forward to the show.

As far as the venue itself, the acoustics left something to be desired (though I noticed the sound for Morrissey himself was a lot better than for the opening act, so I don't know if that had something to do with it), but it's a pretty impressive place.  It must have been gorgeous when it was built; it's still quite elegantly appointed, but it does seem very much like something from another age (at least before the lights go down and things kick off).

The opening band, the Courteeners, was pretty decent; they're very much in the "indie mold" so to speak, but for an opening act I thought they did their job pretty well and the crowd seemed to get into at least a few of their songs.  I don't think I'm going to run out and buy their CDs right away, but I can't complain about them.

The main event, though, blew them away.  While it seems like some reviewers were not too impressed, I thought it was really good -- and if this is a weak performance by Morrissey, I really want to see a good one, because it must be pretty crazy.  It seemed pretty obvious to me that he really likes performing and playing for a crowd, and even though I have to admit that I didn't know a fair number of the songs (mostly the ones from last couple CDs), I had no problem getting into it.

I was a little disappointed there weren't too many Smiths songs in the set, but it's not really fair to expect him to play a bunch of stuff from 20 years ago when he's promoting a new CD.  And really, what there was couldn't have been done much better.  The version of "How Soon Is Now" that they played, complete with a brutal drum solo at the end, brought the house down (and I was kind of surprised it came as early as it did in the evening).

Overall, while relatively short (I think he only played for maybe an hour an a half), he was just belting out the songs and plowed through twenty tracks in that time.  I would like to have heard more, but I certainly don't feel like we were cheated.  I'll definitely be looking for a chance to see him again when he comes back to town.
So over the last few months, there have been two new releases from Nine Inch Nails -- the instrumental tracks Ghosts I-IV and the latest full-length CD, The Slip.  Both are being released digitially via the NIN website, and it sounds like everything else is being done by Trent himself (including the eventual CD release).  Considering his history of trouble with his record labels, especially with Year Zero, it's not particularly surprising to see him do things this way.  I have to applaud him as one of the few artists that seems to have decided to embrace the future rather than being dragged there kicking and screaming, probably hurting their image (and their profit margins) in the process.  However, the music industry isn't really my field of expertise, so I'll let others weigh in on that and give more useful analysis; what I wanted to get to was my impressions of these two releases.

Two of my favorite NIN tracks are A Warm Place (off Downward Spiral) and Help Me I Am In Hell (off Broken); I can still remember seeing them play A Warm Place live at the Assembly Hall when I saw them during their tour in 1994.  Two full CDs of NIN instrumentals is something I can only drool over.  However, when Ghosts I-IV was announced, I didn't realize it was all instrumentals until Marc told me that one of his kids had mentioned it and included that fact.  It didn't take long for me to grab it, and I've been listening to it a lot lately.  Like the other NIN instrumentals (and the soundscapes that Trent developed for the Quake soundtrack), the music is atmospheric, evocative, and definitely emotional, if you're primed for it (though nothing quite reaching A Warm Place's heights in that area).  I could listen to this release for days on end (and I have).  My only complaint is that most of the tracks are relatively short (about three minutes on average), but that's not really a huge complaint.  There are a wide variety of instruments and styles featured, something I've come to expect from NIN, but it all works together beautifully.  If you are a big NIN fan, especially if you really like the instrumentals like I do, check it out.  At five bucks for the full download, it's a steal.

The Slip, released last week, is a bit more uneven for me.  My first exposure to the CD (if it isn't on CD yet, does it count as a CD?) was from hearing Discipline on WPGU.  It's definitely the most mainstream thing on the CD, I think, and remiscent of the style from Year Zero (noisy, but still very...melodic?).  On the strength of that, I downloaded the rest, and for the most part I'm quite happy with it.  Most of the other tracks are in a similar vein, but vary in mood.  1,000,000 and Letting You are faster and noisier, while Echoplex is much more sedate, for instance.  The CD also features a pair of instrumentals, much longer than those on Ghosts, and they are just as good as anything on that collection.  Overall, I have to admit that it's not quite as strong as Year Zero, which I thought was probably NIN's best CD since Downward Spiral, but it's still pretty damn good.  It's well worth picking up from the website (I mean, Christ, it's free!), and I'll probably be buying the CD when it comes out this summer.

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