Words By Ross Bonaime, Words From A Lifelong Fanboy By Brandon Wetherbee, Photos by Shauna Alexander
For some reason I’ve always respected Trent Reznor more than downright liked his music in the various projects it takes form. I appreciate his combination of industrial, electronic, rock, et al. and especially to make loud andgrimy music with levels of quiet intricacy under the surface. Reznor brought the duality of these two sides to his live show that is spectacular in display and in performance.
I have liked Reznor’s music since I was 11 and now I’m 30 and am enjoying the music of his I’ve discovered in the last 9-years more than that first 9. That’s a great sign.
Opening for NIN was the equally impressive Godspeed You! Black Emperor, who played a synced up video with an occasionally disturbing bent to them, such as the word “HOPE,” scrawled in chalk. Godspeed performed on a barely lit stage with a few Christmas lights strewn around, mostly covered in darkness, suiting for their two songs “Hope Drone” and “Behemoth.” Both are beautiful tracks that still sound like they could be the soundtrack to never-ending nightmares. Yet near the end, they both reach gorgeous moments of light and hope that crescendo into a sound that makes it all the build up worthwhile. Somehow they make 45 minutes of only two songs incredibly compelling.
NIN. NIN all the time. This being said, Godspeed is a much better opener than A Perfect Circle, who I saw open for NIN in 2000 and bleh.
Covering the stage before Nine Inch Nails was a giant black curtain that seemed to be thrown aside by a billowing wave of fog as Reznor and co. began their set with the Hesitation Marks standout “Copy of A.” Most of the members each had their own grouping of lights right above them, spotlighting each individually.
The arena version of “Copy” is a full on drum and guitar assault. The festival version featured Reznor on a synth, slowly being joined on stage by four more band members, also beginning on synth. The Verizon Center got the ‘rock’ version, the summer fest circuit got the ‘art’ version. I slightly prefer the ‘art.’ This may have been different if I was in the pit.
Every song’s light show is so brilliant, it’s often distracting from the actual music, but does a great job of accentuating the music and always surprising. Even at the end of the set, I was still seeing new awesome things going on with the lights.
Jaw dropping and the future of large shows. Expect this from Beyonce in 13 years. She’s using quite a bit of what Trent presented in the 2000 Fragility tour in 2013.
After the loud and strobe-filled “1,000,000,” a wall of lights appeared for “Terrible Lie,” followed by crowd-favorite “March of the Pigs,” which forced drummer Ilan Rubin to come out from behind his kit to play the piano part when Reznor sings “doesn’t it make you feel better?” Following “Piggy” came a large chunk dedicated to Hesitation Marks and just how phenomenal NIN’s light show would be.
Four songs of industrial anger and power followed by some introspective mid-tempo dancey tunes left the meatheads confused and the uber-fans satiated.
Starting with “All Time Low,” the stage was lit up with images of flames dancing about with a translucent screen placed in front of the band. Then came the most technically incredible part of the evening, as the band played in the dark during “Disappointed.” In addition to the screen in front of them, there’s two more placed behind them, one behind the entire band, the other behind Reznor and the others in the front, sandwiching them in. These create some incredible images, such as during “Disappointed” when they display three various series of lines, distorting in wonderful patterns. I think almost everyone had even forgot that there was a band playing somewhere in the dark.
Reznor built a cage. Who else builds cages? When the inevitable DVD of this tour is released, but it just to see how this segment of the set was executed.
But NIN came back to the forefront with “Came Back Haunted,” still utilizing the screens to create a dark red stage from images in front of and behind them. “Find My Way” had the band performing in front of a gorgeous blue sunrise, while “Satellite” projected images of Reznor live taken from a cameraman by his side, creating what looked like a Virtual Boy recreation of Reznor behind the band.
For all the kids in the audience (yes, actual children, like the 10-year-old with his parents who really seemed to be enjoying the show), Virtual Boy was a video game system Nintendo released in 1995. It was on the market for less than a year. It was horrible and caused migraines. I miss playing it at Super K-Mart. Actual video game stores were too smart to let kids hang out for hours at a time while you listened to The Downward Spiral on tape and attempting to beat Red Alarm.
After this display came a series of songs throughout Nine Inch Nails’ history, starting with “The Big Come Down,” then “Survivalism,” which featured two female background singers. “Somewhat Damaged” covered the stage in purple and white, with Reznor’s typical power stance, gripping the microphone stand intensely in the spotlight. Reznor’s stage presence is so aggressive and powerful, it’s almost like at any moment he could have easily grabbed his mic stand, bent it at the middle with no problem and thrown it into the moshing crowd.
Reznor is going full-on Pink Floyd. The back-up singers had solos of noise, a la “The Great Gig in the Sky.” Roger Waters is touring Pink Floyd’s The Wall in his late 60s. Reznor is paying attention.
Ending the set proper were two of Nine Inch Nails’ biggest hits. First, “The Hand That Feeds,” which brought out the screens again, this time presenting blue and white blocks with outlines of the members shown through and flashing in tune with the song. Then came “Head Like a Hole,” which was as loud and impressive and you’d imagine, with the crowd coming to their feet before the NIN logo shown on the screens, distorting as the audience clapped for the inevitable encore.
Coming back to crazy amounts of orange for the first of two from The Fragile, “The Day the World Went Away.” Reznor then addressed the crowd for the first time of the night. He mentioned that the first time he came to DC was in a Honda Civic in 1989 to open for Skinny Puppy at the 9:30 Club, which caused the audience to yell at various points of the story. He then went directly into “Even Deeper” to finish off The Fragile duo.
It’s super weird to hear an anecdote from Reznor.
To conclude the massive amount of Hesitation Marks was “While I’m Still Here” and “Black Noise,” which featured a prominent saxophone. But to end the night, of course there was no more suiting song than “Hurt.” A video played behind Reznor of various deaths and endings brought an emotional yet still unsettling feeling that the song definitely brings, especially the slow build and eerie guitar until the final burst of guitar and drums to conclude the evening the same way it began.
While the encore was satisfying, it didn’t feature “I’m Afraid of Americans,” a Bowie track Reznor had a hand in and has been playing on this tour. Old school fans went crazy when The Downward Spiral-era video footage was played during “Hurt.” I had to inform others that I knew this and this made me sad and happy and no one should have catalogued what footage was played behind a band nearly 20-years ago, especially when the lead singer was using heroin A LOT and probably remembers none of this.
It’s sort of insane that Reznor is nearing 50, especially with the anger and power he can produce in his performance and in the fascinating show he can create. It’s Reznor’s level of detail and craftsmanship that makes listening to them not enough, but rather makes their live show an integral part of just how great NIN can and has been for decades.
BEST. SHOW. EVER. Or very cool. Whatever. NIN is a well-oiled machine and the production value is the highest in all of pop music. The light show alone nearly justified the ticket price. On the other hand, the $40 t-shirts are bullshit. Kids, if a band is trying to sell you a $40 shirt, keep your money, buy a package of black Hanes shirts and invest the remaining $30 in buying a Roland Groovebox. You can find a bunch on eBay for under $200 and if it was good enough to write Pretty Hate Machine, it’s good enough for you to start a band.