In my review for Nine Inch Nail’s restless comeback album Hesitation Marks, I noted Trent Reznor spent much of the album’s run-time turning down the heat on past towering infernos, “until only a flickering blue pilot light is left”. The band’s searing two-hour set at the Sprint Center last night danced between the tiny shimmer of a lighter and a raging fire threatening everything in sight.
Jittery “Copy of A” opened up the night and Reznor was instantly caught up in his own groove, hurling across the stage like a feral animal. Follow-up “1,000,000” smashed the opener into the “pieces of pieces of pieces” the squiggly song could only suggest, Reznor delivering the numb “I feel a million miles away, I don’t feel anything at all” with half-clenched teeth. Pretty Hate Machine warhorse “Terrible Lie” further escalated the aural onslaught. Every off-kilter guitar riff unleashed added additional black eye to an already bruised body.
Akin to the new LP, much of the show’s downtime was unexpected. “March of the Pigs” central question “doesn’t that make you feel better?”‘ became the eye of the storm, prolonged by Reznor and company. The piano traipsing along teased a respite that never arrived. Similarly, the skittish beat sequencing of “Find My Way” was oddly comforting in a live context. Surrounded by so much terror, Reznor’s “Children’s Prayer” subversion provided genuine tranquility. Elsewhere, the ambient washes following “Running” drowned out the entire crowd. Soon enough though the audience was cast onto the rocky shore by the seething interrogation “where the f*** were you?” of “Somewhat Deranged”.
But the brief intermissions of frailty were no match for the night’s muscular numbers; tracks intent on obliteration. Before the show, I heard someone yell what sounded like “cyber raptor” and that vivid imagine of a mechanical killing machine is ideal for the NIN discography. Backed by shadows, “Hand That Feeds” rose to its feet and stomped the audience into the ground with its indelible hook. “All Time Low” retained its rabid dog on a last leg status; flailing about without ever breaking the cage that contained it. “Disappointed”s scattered beams of light were right at home accompanying a fragmented mind that’s spent the last two decades attempting to piece everything together. And “Head Like A Hole” (which elicited the throatiest roar of the night) continued its dominance, heralding the apocalypse which the audience relished with delight.
The two songs that achieved equilibrium between the ragers and the growers are all too familiar to fans of the band. Bathed in purple, Reznor was quietly seeing red with “Piggy”. The “soothing” ambient whispers of the track were shouted down by the punishing drum beat and skyward reaching guitar solos. Then there was “Hurt” drawing the black curtain on the funeral procession. It was the least surprising moment of the night and still the most satisfying. Long since it was wrestled away from Reznor by Johnny Cash, he continues to imbue it with the same hopeless isolation an entire generation identified with nearly 20 years ago. When the whispering guitars find their voice, it’s the sound of man shedding his mortal coil.
When I was about 10, I remember having long shoots attached to my fingers and jokingly dubbing them “Nine Inch Nails” to my cousins. I had no idea who the band was; to me they were just a name. The apparent unease that crept over my cousins told me all I needed to know. The mere mention of the name clued me in this wasn’t a band that traded in comfort. Anyone that promises “the only that’s real” rarely does.
1. “Copy of A”
3. “Terrible Lie”
4. “March of the Pigs”
6. “All Time Low”
8. “Came Back Haunted”
9. “Find My Way”
10. “Into the Void” (First time since 2007)
11. “The Frail” (Tour debut)
12. “The Wretched” (Tour debut)
15. “A Warm Place”
16. “Somewhat Damaged”
18. “Burn” (Tour debut)
19. “The Hand That Feeds”
20. “Head Like A Hole”
21. “Even Deeper”
22. “Various Methods of Escape” (Live debut)
23. “While I’m Still Here”
24. “Black Noise”