Nine Inch Nails
Nine Inch Nails’ concert last week reminded the audience of a time when modern rock radio was dominated by bands that seemed to matter.
Playing like black-clad scientists on a stage that looked like an electronic, musical lab, Nine Inch Nails churned out songs with machine-like precision. Nine Inch Nails mastermind Trent Reznor stalked and sometimes sulked around the stage with a combination of rage and vulnerability.
The band started behind a translucent curtain, allowing the stage to fill with the proper amount of atmospheric fog before it was raised. They kicked off the music with material from the most recent Nails album, “With Teeth.”
Although these songs were familiar to those who listen to the local modern rock radio station, the songs that got the most enthusiastic responses were the classics (if songs from 12-17 years ago can be called “classics” yet).
The piano-driven “Something I Can Never Have” brought out the lighters and lit-up cell phones of the audience. Reznor used the song to give his most emotional and least testosterone-driven performance of the night, as he kept his eyes closed and his hands clenched around the microphone stand.
While his lyrics are nothing extraordinary and are usually rather simply worded expressions of pain or anger, Reznor’s musical innovations and the performance they inspire out of him put the current generation of depressed rockers to shame.
The lighters and phones came out again for “Hurt,” a song that has achieved a higher profile since the release of Johnny Cash’s excellent cover version. Many in the crowd were singing along to its every word.
The infamous single “Closer” almost seemed to turn the arena floor, typically mosh pit territory, into the floor of a dance club for a few seconds with its pulsing heart of a beat. The purple lights emanating from the stage reinforced this vibe.
It is heavy industrial rock that Nails are typically known for, though, and there was plenty to go around, including the distorted crunch of the songs “March of the Pigs” and “Wish.” Crowd surfers and over-enthusiastic moshers forced those on the floor to watch their backs during these numbers.
The show turned cinematic during the song “Eraser,” when the curtain was lowered again and a video displayed scenes of animals in nature. The activity of the animals in the video became increasingly predatory and began to alternate with images of U.S. conflict in the Middle East, all-American men and women in TV-commercial-like tranquility, and money being printed.
The video featured a clip during this segment of President Bush and the first lady dancing at a social event, which elicited upraised middle digits from many in the audience. This video eventually culminated in a nuclear explosion played in reverse and shrinking down to nothing.
The band closed with “Head Like a Hole,” which brought out its most aggressive performance of the night, adding even more monolithic power to a song that is already an alternative rock anthem, making an encore superfluous.
A way to tell a great band, aside from its ability to have no encore and still manage to keep fans from feeling cheated, is by its opening act. Reznor chose spoken word/electronic/hip-hop artist Saul Williams to perform. Williams took on issues such as racism in his rhymes, at one point remarking that he was glad that he and those in the audience would “outlive the views of our grandparents.”
One of the highlights of his set was a song attacking modern rap music and its materialism and glorification of violence.
Although they have music that sounds totally different, what Reznor and Williams have in common is a belief in the ability of modern music to move or inspire, whether through its words or sounds.