David Lynch or Some Random People on YouTube: Who Shot Nine Inch Nails Better?

Photo: Suzanne Tenner/SHOWTIME

After a shattering performance to close out Sunday night at the Panorama festival, Nine Inch Nails remained in New York for a little longer. Last night, Trent Reznor’s legendary industrial outfit played to a smaller crowd at Webster Hall, where, as proven by uploaded phone footage, they saw fit to unleash their first live rendition of “She’s Gone Away,” a song whose most prominent visual exposure came a month ago on the beyond-eerie eighth episode of Twin Peaks: The Return, serving as a prelude to Evil Cooper’s resurrection as well as a chain of oblique and abstract, yet viscerally felt visual symbols. Seeing as how there’s more than one video of a performance of “She’s Gone Away” now, it seems only fair to ask, using nine very rigorously crafted criteria: Which one is better? The answer may surprise you. It also may not.

The Webster performance makes use of heavy purple spotlights that periodically shift into blinding whiteness: a little anodyne, but certainly in keeping with NIN’s grim aesthetic nonetheless. Sadly, smartphones are not always the best at capturing bright lights in dark environments. Meanwhile, the lighting in the Twin Peaks performance is far more intricate, with dim green and blue light creating a thin yet vaguely aquatic ambience and a weird, meshlike array which makes it seem like the band members (dressed in black, of course) are phasing in and out of existence. Also, the cameras, being expensive and good, can handle glare and darkness with great facility. Advantage: David Lynch.

The Webster footage is fuzzy, and the Peaks footage is so sharp you could carve rocks with it. The precision is wholly in keeping with Reznor’s exacting spirit, too. The better camera wins again. Lynch: 2, randos: 0.

Camera Movement
Surprisingly, the range of motion available to your average concertgoer is not very broad. To their credit, last night’s recorders, aided by a lack of frenzied crowd motion, managed to keep their phones surprisingly steady. David Lynch, on the other hand, having engineered the entirety of the televised performances, was free to shoot from multiple angles: There’s not a huge deal of camera motion, but when there is it’s smooth, subtle, and smart. Lynch seems interested, for some reason, in keeping the attractive, dark-haired female vocalist/tambourinist (not a permanent member of the band, apparently) in the shot as often as possible. The professional director takes this category more or less by default, again.

Gender Representation
Though Reznor’s been known to use, very occasionally, a female backing vocalist or two, NIN is very much a world for men as far as playing instruments is concerned. The Webster performance is a sausage-fest, full stop; the Roadhouse performance has, as mentioned, one woman. She can’t be missed, which is kind of interesting when juxtaposed with the title of the song itself (and with Twin Peaks as a whole, which tries to fill the absence left by a young woman). Lynch is running away with this.

Multiple Perspectives
Doubles and strangely twisted views are a Lynch staple, but even Lynch is helpless before the power of multiple cameras. It’s quite a trip to (almost) sync up the two “She’s Gone Away” videos from Webster on YouTube: The effect, once you pull it off, is quite thrilling — the music-video equivalent of depth perception. Advantage goes to the amateurs for the first time.

Crowd Reactions
A little bit of frenzy in rural Washington, a little bit of frenzy in Manhattan. It’s a tie, and since the tiebreaker, as with all things, is based on proximity to New York, it means that the locals are making a bit of a comeback.

The Twin Peaks performance was a lip sync of the studio track, but Reznor & Co. are clearly singing live. It’s true that, in either case, their vocals are being filtered through a different series of machines, but keeping it real, despite all the distortions, is still somehow a thing we believe in. 4–3.

Whether from the crowd or the band, you can’t see any facial expressions in the Webster footage. The technology won’t allow it. It’s just the silhouettes of heads and bodies. Meanwhile, Lynch gets a crystal-clear view of Reznor’s face in the process of releasing tortured words, as well as fleeting shots of entranced audience members. But there’s always been something faceless about NIN’s music as a whole: Emptiness and feeling aren’t opposed so much as equated. So it seems fair to call it a tie, which means that the locals, being New Yorkers in a contest under the auspices of New York Magazine, win once more.

So it’s tied at four apiece, with only one category left. In keeping with the same national spirit that coined the term “gerrymandering” and found it prudent to give South Dakota the same number of senators as California, we were originally going to choose “resonance with David Lynch’s larger body of work” as the last criterion. But blatantly rigged contests are perhaps too much in fashion at the moment — which is to say, soon to be out of fashion. If deceit is out, and truth is soon to be in, it makes sense to go with the incoming flow, and nominate “Truth” as the final category.

Unfortunately, everything is true. Which means there’s a tie, which means that New York wins the tiebreaker, we suppose. But then again, David Lynch gets this city: The New York scenes in the initial episodes of The Return are especially true to life (or true to Nine Inch Nails, at the very least). You sit and stare into an empty, expensive space, waiting. Eventually someone joins you, maybe, and you stare together. Intimacy breeds destruction: Something from the void reduces you both to human pastrami. So David Lynch is a New Yorker, too, which means it’s a tie, but what’s the moral of a tie? Everything is true, so no one knows: The only certain thing is that America will keep winning, if it can just pivot to video hard enough.

Who Shot Nine Inch Nails Better: David Lynch or Random Fans?