I recently read a review of a show that happened in Boulder in which the author seemed extremely disappointed that the band didn’t play a couple of their biggest hits. The band being reviewed has been in business for over twenty years and has no less then twenty chart-topping singles — many of which they did play during their set in Boulder. The band also has three upcoming shows at the Ogden Theatre in which to deliver the songs that the author deemed so essential. I don’t know why the review rubbed me the wrong way — hell, we’ve all been disappointed by bands who don’t seem to care about what the audience wants — but in this case, with this particular band, it seemed like a pretty dull way to start a review. So that’s why I’m not going to make a list of all the songs I wish Nine Inch Nails would’ve played last night. I’m also not going to compare the “Tension 2013” tour to the life-altering “Self-Destruct Tour” that I witnessed in ’94. To do so would be unfair. Nine Inch Nails in 2013 are not the same band that existed in 1994. For better or worse, that is the truth.
There are two versions of Trent Reznor’s NIN project that exist in my mind — the one that came before Lost Highway, and the one that came after. I’m not sure why Reznor’s work with David Lynch is my demarcation line between NIN 1.0 and NIN 2.0 (in all reality, The Fragile should fall on the other side of that border), but after he produced that soundtrack, I stopped paying attention. Maybe it was to protect myself — Pretty Hate Machine, Broken and The Downward Spiral were so crucial to my adolescence that maybe I just had a fear that this clean-cut producer would shatter all my preconceived notions of the man who made those albums. I didn’t want to know him as a person. I just wanted him to continue to be the spitting, screaming, spewing hate machine that I had always known him to be.
But we can’t stay young and angry forever. I went on to other bands and Reznor took NIN to other places. Less industrial, less angry places. And I respect us both for that. Angst just isn’t attractive in middle-aged men.
Reznor put out five NIN albums over the next decade before putting the project on indefinite hiatus in 2009. It wasn’t until earlier this year that he resurrected the name. The “Tension 2013” tour was announced, the route was mapped out, and Hesitation Marks was released. These events led up to us being gathered in Broomfield on a Wednesday night.
‘Everywhere now reminding me, I am not who I used to be’
I was standing on the floor, about 60 feet from the stage, when Trent Reznor made his return to Colorado as Nine Inch Nails.The performance opened with the glitchy, repetitive “Copy of A” from the new album, before pushing the decibels up a bit with “1,000,000” from (an album I didn’t even know about) The Slip. And then there we were, ten minutes into a two hour set, and in the midst of a revamped “Terrible Lie”. I could feel the weight of the crowd building at my back as Reznor pleaded for ‘someone to hold on to‘. It turns out he still had a little hate machine left in him afterall, and the crowd was plugged right into it — mainlining the energy like a junkie in need of just one fix. But it wasn’t until the next song that everything changed in a blink of an eye…
“step! right! up! march! push!”
The stream of people snaking their way forward, through the wall of human flesh, instantly became a stampede of fist-pumping vandals — breaking, smashing and fucking up everything in their path with the sole purpose of getting as close to the stage as possible. As my beer went flying from my hand, my natural instincts turned that same hand into a fist as I joined the masses in their blind pursuit of ‘closer’. By the time the song ended, I had made it through the pit and to the other side. As “March of the Pigs” bled into “Piggy”, I was able to take a breath. The air smelled of spilt beer, sweat and youth. The adrenaline pumping through my veins made me feel alive. Those fifteen minutes were among the best I have experienced at a show this year.
‘wish there was something real, wish there was something true‘
The next forty minutes were something different. As if catching himself in an act of childish behavior, Reznor brought things down a level or two. As we were carried through a good portion of Hesitation Marks, I couldn’t help but be more impressed with the (absolutely mind-blowing) technology being employed on (and around and above and underneath) the stage than I was with the music itself. It’s not that it was bad — if this was some new band, I’d have probably thought that they were pretty damn good — but after having my head split open with songs that mean so much to me, it was hard to groove to downtempo selections — even with the impressive band and backup singers that were surrounding the man himself. It was during “Various Methods of Escape” (the fifth Hesitation track in a row) that I was really starting to lose my buzz. As I lost myself in the lasers and cages and videos that were constantly transforming the stage, I couldn’t help but think back to the lyrics of an earlier song…
“Can I ask you something; what did you expect
So disappointed with what you get
Do you ever want to just get outta here
So disappointed; just disappear”
Those words reminded me of that review I read and I decided I didn’t want to be that guy — the guy who pouts because the band isn’t playing his song. So at that moment I resigned myself to the fact that I was at a pretty spectacular event and that I should just stand back and enjoy the full spectrum of stimuli that surrounded me. For this, I was rewarded with a funked-out version of “Sanctified”. And it was awesome.
The rest of the main set was a virtual tour through Reznor’s career, ending with the finest run of the evening — the instrumental “A Warm Place” broke into “Somewhat Damaged” which led into one of my favorite NIN songs — “Wish” was worth the price of admission alone. I’m not sure I even heard the song over the sound of my own voice. The night could have ended there and I would have been fine. Fortunately for everyone else, it didn’t.
“Head Like a Hole” ended up closing out the main set. The song is over twenty years old and it still seemed as fresh and groundbreaking as it did the day it came out. It would have been a fitting close, proving my theory of NIN 1.0 and 2.0 wrong — or at least adding weight to a theory of a hybrid 3.0 — but we were still in for a five song encore.
Reznor decided to say farewell with “Hurt”. And as the serpent’s eyes from the original video looked out at the crowd, they saw pure satisfaction reflected back at them. The set might have been a little uneven, with too much new material packed in the middle, but overall it proved that although Reznor might be a different person than he was when he started NIN, he is still a true believer in producing a show that people will continue to replay in their minds for days, weeks, even years to come. I will never forget that show in ’94 — I will never forget that band — but something tells me that last night’s performance will find a warm safe place in my mind as well.
‘I will let you down, I will make you hurt‘
The masters of mood manipulation, Explosions in the Sky, opened the show with an instrumental set worthy of the big stage, but I do believe they lost those in the crowd who had never heard them before. Hopefully they did win over some NIN fans though, because they really are the best in their particular field. They specialize in carrying you to the top of the mountain and dropping you off the highest cliff, all while building the softest landing zone you can imagine. I realize instrumental guitar bands arn’t for everyone, but with album titles like Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever and All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone, who need lyrics?
Copy of A
March of the Pigs
All Time Low
Came Back Haunted
Find My Way
Various Methods of Escape
The Big Come Down
A Warm Place
The Hand That Feeds
Head Like a Hole
All the Love in the World
While I’m Still Here