Nine Inch Nails w/ Deerhunter – [Live]

Thursday, 11 September 2008

The very first time I saw Nine Inch Nails was in 1990 after I had worn out their first vinyl single, Halo 1, Down In It. The show was at the Masquerade in Atlanta and it would later be infamously known as Sweatfest, for very good reason. Little did I know that what I witnessed there would become the phenomenon that is still going strong nearly twenty years and 26 releases, or “Halos,” later. Nine Inch Nails experienced a rebirth in the past year by forming its own record label, The Null Corporation, and with it came an incredibly savvy vision and Web presence. This Lights in the Sky Over North America tour is definitely a product of the new, refreshed version of NIN as well as its architect and front man, Trent Reznor.

Emerging on a deceptively sparse, seizure-friendly black stage, the band began the show and easily settled in with four tracks from their latest effort, The Slip. Already rapt by Reznor’s presence, the energy of the crowd immediately spiked when they heard the first beats of “March of the Pigs.” It was right about then that a 4.0 earthquake was rumbling outside. It went unnoticed since, inside, it felt like there was a 7.0 emanating from the stage. It also probably went unnoticed by me since it was also just about the time guitarist Robin Finck was diving on me as I photographed the set from the pit. I love my job.

More crowd favorites, “Closer” and “Gave Up” finished out the first part of the set and gave way to a surreal transformation of the stage. It became a wall of images as proximity-sensitive mesh video screens dropped in front of the quintet. The entire stage seemed to be made of LEDs. While grainy images reminiscent of those on my tattered Joy Division t-shirt along with rain, ripples, static and desert landscapes enveloped the performance in a hazy shroud, the band performed mostly instrumental material from Ghosts. This stripped-down, artfully dreamy subset of the show featured bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen on an upright bass and Reznor on vibraphone. Only the half-way mark in the two-hour, thirty-song performance, the interlude ended with an startlingly eerie Ghosts version of “Piggy” with the images on the front screen parting like worm-holes when Reznor leaned forward to accentuate the best parts.

With the aching sounds of “Pinion” droning throughout the arena, the screen was “erased” with a flashlight by a member of the crew as he systematically painted it with light. Although hi-tech flourishes were abundant during the show, it was clear that it was much more integrated than in previous tours. Gone were the simple video screens with beautifully ghastly time-lapse images of decay. Gone were the showers of broken keys flying from violently smashed keyboards. The new era of NIN has a much more mature, artistic and playful nature as Reznor has transformed the entire stage into his very own canvas and playground. At one point, his every move was followed by a crew member wielding a video camera while the abstract and distorted close-up imagery of the singer’s face was displayed overhead. Other technological touches included hanging pipes of light for the band to amuse themselves onstage and live video feeds from various cameras installed throughout the venue. Sadly, the fans caught on the screen missed the joke and didn’t realize they were on camera and, even more unfortunate, the bathroom cameras, which have been a running gag on this tour, must have been out for repairs.

The show’s climax culminated in scorching renditions of favorites including “Wish,” “Terrible Lie” and “Head Like a Hole,” with the newly reunited Finck bringing back his trademark intensity. His style has always been a perfect match for Reznor’s gritty, unwavering vocals. The band was exceptionally tight throughout the entire evening, as Meldal-Johnsen gave no indication that this was his first stint on tour with Trent and company and Alessandro Cortini provided solid backing on the requisite keyboards. Josh Freese, who also moonlights as the drummer for DEVO, among others, was reliable as always. As talented and well respected as Freese has become, I still always get a little nostalgic when I don’t see Chris Vrenna (with a wee trickle of blood on his head) behind the NIN kit.

After a brief break, the band returned with an encore highlighted by one of Nine Inch Nails’ most cinematic songs, “Hurt.” For die-hards there were some notable omissions from the set-list including “Sin,” “Last,” “Something I Can Never Have” and “Heresy.” And to not follow “The Frail” with “The Wretched” is heresy indeed. Still, the fans remained captivated and it was refreshing to see that even the sound and light techs were enthusiastically bobbing along, especially this late in the tour. The entire production buzzed with professionalism, from the stagehand on microphone stand retrieval duty to producer Atticus Ross and art director Rob Sheridan hovering in the wings.

Gazing backstage at the screens and screens of custom-written software running various aspects of the show, it is apparent that Reznor still embraces technology as much as ever. It’s also apparent that his measured use of it is a product of his overall transformation. The aggression and onstage destruction that have been staples of nearly every previous tour were still very much a part of this show but were each used more judiciously. While the visual and aural spectacles were abundant and satisfying, the show turned out to be more than just a sum of these parts. In the new Nine Inch Nails, it seems that the emphasis is more about the entire experience—about showcasing the creativity beyond the live performance of music. NIN 2.0. More artist, less rock star.


Download The Slip HERE for free!

“Discipline” – [mp3]
“Echoplex” – [mp3]
“My Violent Heart” – [mp3]

Related Articles:
Nine Inch Nails – The Slip – [Album Review]

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