NIN / Soundgarden. Red Rocks. 07.21.14 / 07.22.14

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On March 8th, 1994, two bands released their defining albums. Trent Reznor brought his industrial project to the mainstream (and dancefloors) with a song about fornicating like an animal, while Chris Cornell solidified himself as the voice of the heavier side of alternative rock. Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden both had a following before these albums were released, and some would even say The Downward Spiral and Superunknown were the end of both bands, but when it came to commercial success and exposure, neither band ever flew as high as they did in ’94. I was lucky enough to see both bands perform in the year when “Closer” and “Black Hole Sun” were inescapable, and both shows will always stand out as highlights of my youth, but the success they achieved made me turn away shortly after. This was in the days when radio rotation could make and break a band, and no matter how much I enjoyed those albums, the lack of imagination from radio DJs made me want to vomit every time I heard a single from either album. A few years later The Fragile and Down on the Upside were released and I barely paid attention. So if you would have told me back then that I would be attending two nights of a double bill twenty years later, I would have laughed. But here I am, positively reflecting on back-to-back sets from bands who are celebrating the 20th anniversary of their biggest albums.

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Daniel Lopatin had the unfortunate task of filling in for the newly departed Death Grips both nights. His experimental Oneohtrix Point Never project did nothing but rattle my nose hairs with abusive bass while I mourned one of the most intense live acts I had ever seen. But if I’m being honest, I doubt the majority of the audience were any less confused than they would have been if MC Ride was spewing anarchist threats from the stage. Lopatin’s thirty minute set was enough for me the first night, so we didn’t bother getting in early the second night.

Soundgarden were the first on the dual-headlining bill each night. If I hadn’t seen seen them perform at Red Rocks in 2011, I would have probably been blown away by how good they were, especially when Chris Cornell announced that he had just turned 50 the night before. But that show three years ago prepared me for a band that sounds better than they did two decades ago. What could have easily been a 401K tour for a band who broke up in ’97, Cornell and crew came out with something to prove. It would have also been just as easy to perform a play-by-numbers rendition of Superunknown, but they dug deep instead. In addition to their most popular singles, the old school fans were treated to five tracks from Badmotorfinger, as well as “I Awake” from Louder Than Love and “Flower” from Ultramega OK. We were 4th row for the first night and it was amazing to see how young and excited the band looked up close and personal. I heard some complaints about the sound from those in the upper rows, but my experience from row 32 the second night was just as amazing. It was a perfect, warm, still night on the Rocks and Soundgarden proved they are still as relevant as they’ve ever been. The single song from King Animal, “A Thousand Days Before”, didn’t make me want to run out and buy the new album, but it also didn’t send me in search of the nearest bathroom. And that’s about the highest compliment I can give to a band I haven’t really listened to since Cornell was pushing 30.

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Nine Inch Nails have been a much bigger influence on my life than Soundgarden, so I was happy to see Reznor would be headlining both nights. I would be lying if I said most of his recorded material since Spiral hasn’t been disappointing, but his stage presence is just as intense (very different, but still intense) as it was in ’94. So to see him perform two nights at my favorite venue was something beyond words. Like Soundgarden before him, Reznor would never be content playing an album in its entirely, so the crowd was exposed to a career-spanning setlist both nights.

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, 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. But the lack of angst doesn’t have to mean the lack of intensity. Reznor proved that fact when I saw him at 1stBank Center last year. And he proved it again at Red Rocks last week.

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We were so close when Nine Inch Nails took the stage that it was all a little disorienting at first. The performance opened with the glitchy, repetitive “Copy of A” from the new album, before pushing the decibels up a bit with “Santified″. There were a couple more new tracks and then there we were, twenty minutes into the set, and I could feel the weight of Red Rocks building at my back as Reznor spewed a little of that hate machine he still has left in him. 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 crowd of people behind me instantly became a gang of fist-pumping vandals. My natural instincts turned my hands into fists of my own as I joined the masses in their blind pursuit of ‘closer’. By the time the song ended I had tripped over the seat behind me, only to get up and take a quick breath as “March of the Pigs” bled into “Piggy”. The fresh Colorado air was polluted with sweat, spilt beer and wasted youth. The adrenaline pumping through my veins made me feel alive. A quick glance around the venue confirmed that I wasn’t alone.

The 1stBank set started out similiar, but the next forty minutes in Broomfield 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, but after having my head split open with songs that meant 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. Red Rocks was a different experience. The set was mixed up to add diversity to those who attended both nights, and both nights were extremely well balanced. The new songs fit like jigsaw pieces with the old. The slow songs came and left right on time, instead of bogging down large portions of the night. The technology employed was the same, yet it was visually superior when offset by the natural beauty of the monoliths. 

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“Head Like a Hole” ended up closing out the main set both nights. 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 an 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. 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 these performances (along with the one last year) will all find warm safe places in my mind as well.

* On a less postive note, the Soundgarden MYWAVE presale process was a complete joke. They warned us that the presale tickets would be will call only, but what they didn’t tell us until a few days before the show is that they would have to be picked up at the South Ramp entrance…and that they would be ready to pick-up at 4:30pm the night of the show. All members of your party had to be there to pick them up as well. This caused everyone to have to reschedule their day. Work schedules, sitters, etc. had to be arranged. It also took away from the tailgating experience. The whole thing was a joke. They herded us in at 4:30pm, only to make us stand around for another 45 minutes. At 5:15pm a security guard told us to enter “Kindergarden-style” and “go directly to our seats”, like we were children. We ignored her and hung out around the bar until around 7pm, but the whole thing was an unnecessary hassle.  Most employees of Red Rocks were pissed off as well. I’m not sure what incompetent person was responsible for this process, but it was like nothing I’ve ever seen. 

** I did recycle some of this review from my review of the show at 1stBank Center
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Soundgarden 07.21:
Searching With My Good Eye Closed
Spoonman
I Awake
Let Me Drown
Rusty Cage
Black Hole Sun
Outshined
Jesus Christ Pose
Like Suicide
The Day I Tried to Live
My Wave
(Happy Birthday to Chris Cornell)
Fell on Black Days
A Thousand Days Before
Superunknown
Slaves & Bulldozers

Nine Inch Nails 07.21:
Copy of A
Sanctified
Came Back Haunted
1,000,000
March of the Pigs
Piggy
Terrible Lie
Closer
Gave Up
Me, I’m Not
Find My Way
The Great Destroyer
Eraser
Wish
Only
The Hand That Feeds
Head Like a Hole

Hurt

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07.21 Setlists

Soundgarden 07.22:
Searching With My Good Eye Closed
Spoonman
Flower
Black Hole Sun
Outshined
Jesus Christ Pose
Fell on Black Days
The Day I Tried to Live
My Wave
Blow Up the Outside World
Rusty Cage
Superunknown
A Thousand Days Before
Beyond the Wheel

Nine Inch Nails 07.22:
Somewhat Damaged
Wish
March of the Pigs
Reptile
Terrible Lie
Closer
Burn
Gave Up
Sanctified
Me, I’m Not
Find My Way
The Great Destroyer
Eraser
1,000,000
Only
The Hand That Feeds
Head Like a Hole

Hurt

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07.22 Setlists

  2 comments for “NIN / Soundgarden. Red Rocks. 07.21.14 / 07.22.14

  1. Rachel
    August 1, 2014 at 11:41 am

    I could have sworn he played The Frail and The Wretched on Tuesday night, didn’t he? I don’t see that anyone has it on their set lists but I am 99% sure he played it.

    • August 1, 2014 at 1:43 pm

      if he did, I missed it somehow

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