This year marks the 20th anniversary of Nine Inch Nails' debut album Pretty Hate Machine, but Trent Reznor and his current henchmen were hardly trading on nostalgia. They all but ignored that first album yet still had the audience enrapt. But also gone were the trappings of more recent tours, namely the heavy use of visual images as part of the overall presentation. The visuals were limited to occasional seizure-inducing strobes. They even eschewed video close-ups on the Jumbotrons flanking the stage.
Reznor is screaming, "Too fucked up to care anymore." I'm pondering
whether Nine Inch Nails has received the academic examination it so
clearly merits, and whether filling that possible void is why I should
be heading back to grad school.
March of the Pigs
It makes fantastic use of dramatic pause. The band is in a total
frenzy, especially the wild-haired drummer with primitive style
resembling Lori Barbero of Babes in Toyland (thank you to my husband
for that comparison). They come to a dead stop, then resume the frenzy.
Piggy (Nothing Can Stop Me Now)
They manage to be both visceral and precise.
A Gary Numan cover. The staccato bass that dominates
differentiated it from the band's own compositions, but they make it
their own. For the first time in decades, I feel cool for having bought
Pleasure Principle in 8th
grade. As the song winds down, the rest of the band backs away from
their instruments to leave Reznor alone on keyboards.
The synthesized beats and heavy bass resemble New Order.
Reznor alternately attacks and retreats from the microphone.
Reznor turns "Feels" into a polysyllabic word.
The typically taciturn Reznor hasn't uttered a spoken word to the
audience but suddenly turns confessional. He gives an extended
introduction about locking himself away 10 years, writing only one song
and trying to kill himself. He acknowledges it is hard to go back there
because it still feels haunted. While it sounds like he is only talking
about the song as a metaphorical place, his explanation ends on a
happier note; he is returning there to get married. The arrangement
features an upright bass and Reznor on marimba.
The Way Out Is Through
Reznor brings out friend-of-the-bad Dan for extra guitar punch.
The Hand That Feeds
Head Like a Hole
It took 1 hour and 20 minutes to finally get to something from Pretty Hate Machine
for their traditional set closer.
This follows a brief ceremonial retreat to the wings to designate this
an an encore. Even after 15 years, Reznor still makes this song sound
like an open wound. It ends the set on an unexpectedly somber note.
I had incorrectly assumed that Jane's Addiction were the opening band
for the tour, not co-headliners. When NIN took the stage first, my gut
reaction was, "Oh, good, I can go home early." NIN and Jane's Addiction
may have emerged almost concurrently, just as the awkward moniker
"college rock" was giving way to alternative as a music and marketing
force, and both both bands are loud, but the similarities soon end.
Jane's is loud and merely busy, whereas NIN is loud and intense. With
two ostentatious guitar solos and a drum solo in just their first song,
JA clearly weren't drawing on punk's appreciation of brevity. NIN's
early '80s antecedent was Gary Numan while Jane's Addiction's was Van
Halen. I'll give Perry Farrell credit for rockin' the form-fitting gold
satin jumpsuit as he strutted like a peacock around the stage. But
beating the traffic backup exiting the parking lot was far more
appealing than a whole set of this.
Traffic delays caused me to miss all but the last song by opener Street
Sweeper Social Club, aka Tom Morello's new band. Morello used his
tremendous charisma to exhort the whole audience onto their feet, even
alluding to Rage Against the Machine lyrics, acknowledging, "There's
always someone saying, 'Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me.'" Once
everyone had arisen, the guitar-heavy band used their chops to earn the
response. Morello is unlikely to match the heights of Rage again, but
he is still impressive in working up a crowd. It's always good to see
someone use their intelligence and talent for good, not evil.