The middle-aged woman with crimped hair standing in General Admission on the Key Arena floor may have been the most telling sign of just how many years Nine Inch Nails has been around. Or the woman in the laced black corset. Or the pair of guys wearing Nine Inch Nails shirts—to a Nine Inch Nails concert. Isn’t that faux pas? In hindsight, it doesn’t matter. These fans have earned doing pretty much what they want on the sheer fact they’ve stayed loyal for 25 years.
For those in attendance on Friday night, the Nine Inch Nails set seemed a culmination of all of this: 2-plus hours of the most raw, most physical rock ‘n’ roll that’s come through the city all year. But you can expect that from someone like Trent Reznor, who has re imagined what it take to create timeless, kinetic alt.-rock, time and time again.
Fact: In the years since Reznor first created NIN, the sound—the direction of the band itself—has changed, and on Friday night, this couldn’t be more apparent. This incarnation of the band no longer depends on scratchy guitars and heavy percussion, but tightly wound melodies and dark, moody electronic backbeats. And at 48 years old, frontman Reznor is a different type of rock star. He’s no longer the scrawny, angst-ridden 20-something who brought us aggressive vocal riffs on Pretty Hate Machine (1989) and Downward Spiral (1994). But neither are the fans—and that’s why it works.
Beginning with “Copy of A,” off Hesitation Marks (2013), the band’s Seattle set featured more than half the blues-influenced tracks from it’s newest release, as well as a handful of the goth rock tracks that first landed them on the map: “Head Like a Hole,” “Terrible Lie,” “Sanctified” (Pretty Hate Machine), “Piggy,” “March of the Pigs,” and “A Warm Place” (from The Downward Spiral) among them.
The tour itself, deemed Tension 2013, couldn’t be more appropriately named. As the battle between classic rock and electronic tics raged on stage, the swarms of rock fanatics entered an uneasy atmosphere of pleasantly conflicting sounds. Even so, the performance found balance in the rigid, moody—yet controlled—way Reznor delivered each song.
For this go-round, Reznor brought together a new cast of players to bring his modern stories to life: bassist Pino Palladino, known for supporting major rock and blues ensembles, including The Who and John Mayer; drummer Ilan Rubin; guitarist Robin Finck; keyboardists Alessandro Cortini and Josh Eustis; and R&B vocalists Lisa Fischer and Sharlotte Gibson, both of whom have toured with the likes of Tina Turner, Luther Vandross and the divine Whitney Houston.
And while those players’ influence was felt throughout, it was on tracks like “All Time Low,” and “All The Love In The World,” that this extraordinary combination of musicianship really shined: the juxtaposition of Reznor’s feral, pointedly strained, vocals—paired with the soulful backing of Fischer and Gibson—over rumbling electronic beats gave familiar songs prompted new focus, new energy on stage.
A more sexually-charged tension was revealed in tracks “Find My Way,” and “The Wretched,”—both of which found Reznor delivering chilling vocals over a slow-rolling, steady pulse. The result was haunting and romantic, a sensory overload that took the rowdy crowd to a new level of excitement.
In true NIN fashion, the production of the show was just as telling as the music itself. Aided by a variety of elaborate LED lights and a jaw-dropping stage cage (now a staple of NIN shows), the songs bounced between an explosive wall of lasers and effects that both shocked and held captive the thousands of fans filling the room.
Though a number of fan favorites including “Closer,” and “Only” were left on the cutting room floor, Reznor and Co. more than redeemed themselves in a five-song encore that culminated in a stirring, near-acoustic rendition of “Hurt.” Shrouded in sweat and smoke, the performance found restless bodies pinching themselves back to reality as they basked in a wave of palpable electricity.
Copy of A
March Of The Pigs
All Time Low
Came Back Haunted
Find My Way
A Warm Place
The Hand That Feeds
Head Like A Hole
All The Love In The World
While I’m Still Here