And All That Could Have Been – Live, by Nine Inch Nails

15-andallthatcouldhavebeen

Released January 22, 2002

73 min, 52 sec

By 2002, Nine Inch Nails had been inactive as a band for nearly two years, following the conclusion of the Fragility 2.0 tour. On that tour, Trent Reznor overdosed before a concert in London, leading to the concert’s cancellation, though no other dates on the tour were affected. This overdose served as a wake-up call for Reznor, who decided, after the tour, to finally work on getting clean. Reznor succeeded in this endeavor in the summer of 2001, and chose to shift his focus to the completion of a live album and video set – And All That Could Have Been. This release – two CDs and a double-DVD set – served as the last Nine Inch Nails release until 2005, with the release of “The Hand That Feeds” as the lead single from comeback album With Teeth.

And All That Could Have Been is a messy chronicle of a messy, messy tour. Though Nine Inch Nails had become famous for their chaotic, destructive live performances, dating back to the Pretty Hate Machine promotional cycle, the Fragility tours featured Reznor neck-deep in his addictions, which began to severely affect his on-stage performance, leading to even more chaos and disorder than usual. Subsequent tours that took place following Reznor getting clean have built themselves on visual spectacle instead of chaos, and, personally, I believe that they have significantly improved as a result. The Fragility tours are still held in high regard, however, as they provided a unique atmosphere that, for many, enhanced the experience of hearing the music live. The live album and DVD capture this in different ways – the album uses several unusual production techniques to differentiate itself from other live albums, while the DVD was filmed in the crowd, on handheld cameras, featuring chaotic, uneven editing.

And All That Could Have Been – Live uses a composite setlist that doesn’t match up exactly with the corresponding DVD. The album starts right off into “Terrible Lie,” lacking the usual fade-in of crowd noise that eases listeners into a live album. Segues between songs are mostly left intact, particularly if the songs have transitions between them in the actual live shows. The album closes with a sharply rising burst of static, eradicating the expected fade-out of crowd noise and mirroring the album’s abrupt opening.

Reznor’s voice was ugly during this era. It wasn’t necessarily a result of the drug abuse; rather, his vocals were reflective of the nature of Nine Inch Nails performances at the time, without much focus on impressive musicality. Nine Inch Nails in the 1990s was a guttural, visceral experience.

Despite being a tour for a newly released album, And All That Could Have Been‘s track list does not lean heavily towards The Fragile. Six songs do originate from that album (the most from any album in the list), but that does not provide a majority of the track list overall, and the remaining three releases (Pretty Hate Machine, Broken, and The Downward Spiral) have more or less equal representation in the track list. The album paints an accurate portrait of setlists during the Fragility tours, incorporating most of the tour’s mainstays and serving as a skeleton version of the typical Fragility 2.0 setlist.

Objectively, the Fragility tours (as well as the Self-Destruct tours) are held in high regard by the Nine Inch Nails fan community. Subjectively, I’ve understood the reverence for this era, but I would never put any of these tours above the mid-2000s renaissance that Nine Inch Nails enjoyed following Reznor’s sobriety. Beside You in Time is, in my opinion, a superior live release in every possible way, excluding the fact that it had no accompanying CD release. Reznor was not at the top of his game at any point during the Fragility tours; the way I see it, his best years as a live performer would not come until the Lights in the Sky tour of 2008, as well as the subsequent Wave Goodbye and Tension tours of 2009 and 2013, respectively. And All That Could Have Been, however, is a great live release in the extensiveness of its documentation of a well-loved period of Nine Inch Nails, and I can certainly respect that.

Because of that extensiveness, this weekend’s Specials will look at the other two sections of And All That Could Have Been; the stripped-down EP Still, and the DVD release accompanying the live album. Still will be tomorrow, and the DVD on Sunday.

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