Review by Sophie Maughan
It is a scorcher of an evening as I make my way into the LG. Tonight Nine Inch Nails are in town. Just the mere mention of the name and then the subsequent sight of a nearby event poster has me frothing at the proverbials in rabid excitement. See, I am a bit of a fangirl when it comes to Trent and the lads. I remember hearing 1989’s Pretty Hate Machine and just thinking good god, this is the shit. And the fact that only a few years ago Reznor himself announced they’d be going on an indefinite hiatus before I’d ever got an opportunity to see the ‘Nails live. Thank fuck he’s a workaholic. I am obviously expecting big things so I am terribly disheartened to see at least half of the arena cordoned off and a fair few empty seats. It turns out the self-professed home of heavy metal hasn’t been biting the hand that feeds (or sells the tickets anyway) after all.
Support tonight comes from Philly duo (and now chilling in LA) Cold Cave. They are an act I can’t admit to being particularly au fait with, but their blend of driving darkwave, synth pop and 80’s electronica has me reaching for my invisible cyber neon threads and chucking my arms about. I almost take out my other half’s eye in the process. Wesley Eishold’s vocals are somewhat obscured during the first few tracks due to the less than favourable PA system but the delivery is nonetheless impressive. He puts me in mind of Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan (with just a hint of Ian Curtis’ reticence) and the pulsating, up tempo sound they gave us during the Violator era – definitely nothing to be sniffed at. The crowd are generally receptive and Eishold comes across as a genuinely humble, pleased to be here kinda dude. He tells us that they played Birmingham “a few years ago in a warehouse” and that all of the pictures of that very gig were used in the artwork of the debut album Love Comes Close. I am temporarily blinded by strobes as CC drop the incredibly catchy ‘Confetti’ (from 2011’s Cherish the Light Years) – those “oh I’m coming / you look so good on the outside” refrains are almost hypnotic and I find myself singing along (loudly) after the first verse. It’s an enjoyable 40 minute set which the band round off by thanking us and Trent for coming out to see them. I’ll definitely be checking out their discography after this performance.
As the clock hits 9pm, the house lights dim and you can just about make out a dark figure on stage. A solitary purple strobe light illuminates the one and only Trent Reznor. He hammers those keys and the fans let rip with a face melting cacophony of screams and applause. It’s all very atmospheric and moody with the use of low lights as each band member comes into view and the strains of ‘Me, I’m Not’ begin to drench the arena in drama. The pace shifts immediately as Nine Inch Nails segue smoothly into a smouldering version of tech stomper ‘Copy of A’ which lights a fire under our collective asses and incites a massive rave.
This appears to be the cue for the start of one of the most spectacular light shows I have ever witnessed in my life. Between the dry ice and utterly incredible visuals being projected on the big screens, I can literally feel my mouth drop open. This is no longer just your bog standard rock /metal gig – it is a fucking event. ‘Beginning of the End’ is rattled off with vigour before the monstrously frenzied ‘March of the Pigs’ (the cries of “MARCH!” are deafening) and deliciously dark ‘Piggy’ finish off the twisted trio of songs from sophomore release The Downward Spiral – twenty years on and it still sounds as fresh as it did back in’94. I’m thrilled to hear a reworked version of ‘Sanctified’ and my carnal instincts slither their way to the heated surface as the insatiable rhythm of fan fave ‘Closer’ thumps out across the entire LG. I think my year was just made.
If I had to pick any faults with the proceedings at hand, it would be the relative lack of banter from Trent. His interaction with the adoring audience in front of him is pretty minimal up until the ambient electronica of previous single ‘Came Back Haunted’. He comments on how “it is good not to be at a fucking festival!” and then asks if we’d like to hear “something fucking noisy”. This so-called noise turns out to be a new track from current record Hesitation Marks called ‘Disappointed’ and it is a big, distorted guitars kind of affair accompanied by a shit load of bleeps, flashing graphics, strobes and synths. If you had epilepsy, you would be for like of a better word, fucked right now. I can’t peel my unblinking eyes away.
My mind continues to be blown by the red background used on ‘The Day the World Went Away’ and the juxtaposition of the black figures of the band – it is incredibly striking. Reznor’s gravelly rasp is on point tonight and we are treated to some unapologetically loud and doomy riffs courtesy of Robin Fink. And it must be said that I am suitably impressed by drummer Ilan Rubin’s extended solo on ‘Eraser’ and his ability to keep our attention. Meanwhile, the delight of the ‘old school’ contingent present (largely down the front on the barrier) is none the more palpable than during ‘Wish’ which whips up some pits and the occasional crowd surfer to boot.
‘The Hand That Feeds’ and the classic ‘Head Like A Hole’ finish off a set that is absolutely killer and no filler. We all know what’s coming but that doesn’t make it any less thrilling and unsurprisingly, Trent nails the encore with a stunning performance of ‘Hurt’ which is seared with emotion. Cue the goosebumps. At one point, his vocals are almost rendered inaudible as the audience bellow the words (“If I could start again / a million miles away / I would keep myself / I would find a way”) right back at him. Throw in some equally mesmerizing and poignant visuals and you’ve got a recipe for greatness. As the final note resonates across the venue and the applause rings out into the night, one thing is certain – it’s going to take something pretty bloody special to top this. Spectacular. Welcome back Nine Inch Nails – we’ve missed you.
1. Me, I’m Not
2. Copy of A
3. The Beginning of the End
4. March of the Pigs
7. Gave Up
10. The Warning
12. Came Back Haunted
13. The Great Destroyer
14. The Day the World Went Away
18. The Hand That Feeds
19. Head Like A Hole