Currently living far away from a major city, my concert choices tend to be tried and true acts, favorites I’m willing to drive for. Every now and then it’s nice to have a whim concert though, a concert you go to just for the hell of it. Though I only knew two Nine Inch Nails songs, “Closer” and “Hurt” (and the latter only from the Johnny Cash cover), this review so intrigued me I decided, why not. Even if the music scared me, the light show sounded incredible.
Health’s task of opening a show filled with belligerent fans who just want to see Trent Reznor was admittedly unenviable, but their attitude of acting like the audience wasn’t there didn’t help make a good impression. Gyrating around and making seemingly random noise, the music proved academically interesting but not aurally appealing. Most of the audience seemed not willing to even grant them that though; after a “song” or two the boos, heckles, and middle fingers began flying. One band member earned himself an extra dose of scorn by rarely playing an instrument or singing, instead spending most of his time humping the drum kit and amplifiers. To their credit, they stuck it out, but made no effort to get the audience on their side as the scene threatened to turn ugly.
If Nine Inch Nails frontman, songwriter, and lone permanent band member Reznor erred in choosing them to open, that was about the only mistake he made tonight. Not a concert of spontaneity and freedom, this concert was a carefully choreographed assault on all your senses, the sonic charge matched only by the visual. Because Marcel was not exaggerating on the light show; this was a concert a deaf person would love. Pages would be needed to do justice to the many effects they used, but they all revolved around three stage-length screens that rose and fell, two behind the band and one in front. Not normal screens though, these were metal mesh, allowing images to be projected on them or the band to be seen through. Or both, as in the effect where the screen filled with static, parting periodically to let a band member be seen before collapsing back in on them (see the picture). Or the effect where the band seemed to be playing in a sea of electric fire at their feet and above their heads. Or the effect where static (lots of static in this show) filled the screen, only to be slowly erased by Reznor using some flashlight. Or the…
You get the idea. There were barren landscapes, crowd cameras, a sea of strobe lights perfectly calibrated with the music, a wall of lights behind the screen perfectly programmed to look like the whole wall was bending and warping as the lights turned. Careful not to blow his load too early, Reznor brought out new effects throughout the two-hour show, never ceasing to amaze with the next optical trick or visual explosion. Though perhaps not up to the level of Radiohead, who truly broke new ground in their vertical columns (review), Nine Inch Nails worked within more traditional confines to assault the audience’s eyes with majesty.
The incredible light show didn’t come as a big surprise to me; it was the main reason I was there. What truly stunned me though was how well it all coordinated with the music, each enhancing the other to make even the least industrial type there (me) rock along with every heavy distortion crunch and stuttery beat. Though I don’t know enough to match the visuals to the songs, suffice to say they synced to perfection, drum thumps controlling the static and wavery instrumentals shifting as slowly as the apocalyptic clouds projected above the band.
Trent took the band, featuring longtime collaborator Rob Finck rocking a hairstyle that was part dreadlocks, part faux-hawk, and a little bit of skinhead on the side, through songs spanning the band’s twenty-year career, leaning heavily on the new material (of which there is lots – four albums released in the last three years). Where many audiences would resent such a oldies-light set though, that seemed to be what this crowd looked forward to the most. New tracks like “Discipline” and “Echoplex” got rapturous welcomes, whereas many seemed bored during “Closer.” Perhaps this out-of-the-way venue attracted only the die-hards following the tour (the Boston fans had their own show the following night), but you could feel the deep knowledge in the arena before you even noticed the many t-shirts from previous tours.
For “Hurt” though, no matter how many times everyone had seen it live, people knew enough to quiet down, hold lighters aloft, and stand enraptured as Trent sang, pulling back on the visuals for the only time in the evening. More than a few eyes glistened as his voice wavered over one of the most unhappy songs ever written. Though another tune followed, that proved the emotional end, a meditative close to a loud evening. Angst-ridden industrial may not be everyone’s music of choice, but Trent Reznor is an artist in every sense of the word, going all out to deliver a concert experience his fans will remember forever.
March of the Pigs
The Greater Good
The Hand That Feeds
Head Like a Hole
In This Twilight