Nine Inch Nails a feast for the eyes and ears
Trent Reznor has never been shy about expressing his political opinions. It may come across in a completely forthright manner, such as calling George W. Bush’s reelection “one step closer to the end of the world.” It might also appear more nuanced, as is the case with his song about the Bush administration “The Hand That Feeds.” In any event, Reznor’s performance on the eve of our presidential election at the Greensboro Coliseum bore a very special, though somewhat bittersweet significance. The next time he and Nine Inch Nails (www.nin.com) would take the stage, the United States would have a new president waiting in the wings. Now, that thought should certainly put a smile on his face and he may have already found a replacement punching bag in the form of his former label, Interscope. His 2008 release The Slip was released free of cost under the creative common license and he’s been rubbing it in the face of his former label ever since. Reznor opened the Greensboro show with four consecutive tracks off The Slip and five of the first six overall. The only outlier was “March of the Pigs” from The Downward Spiral, which exploded like an uppercut to the chin after the arena went dark at the end of “Discipline.” The visual displays at NIN’s performances are something of legend (see Telescreen, last week’s band of the week), so I had impossible expectations coming into the evening. After a somewhat subdued start, the psychedelia was really turned loose on the crowd. But the band utilized an impossibly elaborate lighting rig that frankly, was bound to fail at some point. There was just too much invested for it not to. It ran like clockwork for the most part, however. The massive wall of lights in perfectly-aligned rows flashed harmoniously with the thumping industrial drum-and-bass beats the band was throwing down on the aforementioned “Pigs.” The dozen moving heads splashed just enough color that the net lux of it all was sufficient to cause a big headache after the show, but not enough to create a rash of paroxysmal events in the crowd. So yeah, it was a good light show. The highlight came after a prolonged period of manipulated feedback at the end of “Gave Up.” The band killed the lights and used this to buy time while setting up a huge scrim (again, see Telescreen) in front of the stage. Reznor borrowed a page from Kraftwerk’s playbook, with bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen, guitarist Robin Finck and himself stationed behind the scrim and in front of identical mixing stations for “The Warning” and “The Great Destroyer,” two more tributes to our 43 rd president from the album Year Zero. Reznor gave his vocal cords a rest with an extended instrumental session, working his way through his recently released quadruple-EP Ghosts I-IV. It was a
rigorous departure from the funky yet sadistic grooves of the opening act, with Reznor delving into a mix of downtempo and avant-garde jazz. Finck, who seemed to have picked up a few things from his Guns ‘N Roses bandmate Buckethead, was featured heavily and playing a heavily-distorted blues routine to a rolling backdrop of breathtaking natural scenery. The last movement of the show was a profusion of some of the best known material from six different albums and though it wasn’t as cohesive as the rest of the show to that point, it was still satisfying to hear the hits. No one wins when bands get self-indulgent and focus on material that they want you to hear. Those tickets are expensive, man. Well, for you anyway. The visuals took a radical turn on “Survivalism,” with what was implied to be eight separate images of the venue appearing on the main display. Six were of the crowd and two, oddly enough, of the men’s restroom. To borrow a phrase from The Big Lebowski, you can imagine where it goes from here. If you guessed that what looked like two men having sex would show up in one, you would be correct. I expected the other, an empty bathroom stall, to have former senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho) appear and assume a “wide stance.” Sadly, I was disappointed. And then there was “The Hand That Feeds.” A tasteful portrait of our sitting president appeared behind Reznor, who stated “Hopefully, this is the last time we’ll ever play this song.” As the song went on, the picture gradually morphed into an image of John McCain, though I’m not sure what that was in reference to. The band closed with “Head Like A Hole,” but there was still a fantastic encore to be heard. Finck was back in the forefront for “Echoplex,” a howling blues-industrial number marred by the technical difficulties that I alluded to earlier. The giant projection screen went out mid-song, which carried over into “Hurt.” You know, that Johnny Cash song that Snoop Dogg covered? Nice to see them paying respects to the greats. It was unfortunate the lighting problems occurred when they did, especially since “Hurt” is usually accompanied by some of their best effects. The lack of visuals did create a bit more of an intimate setting for this powerful song, but it would have been more so had there not been a desperate substitution of cheesy floodlights. The final song of the evening, “In This Twilight,” more than made up for it with a serene cityscape projected onto the backdrop. Very peaceful, except for the random explosions dotting the land. The band left the stage one at a time to a chorus of virtual fireballs, leaving Reznor for a quiet piano solo to end the show. A fitting end to an evening of pounding industrial noise and one of the best headaches I’ve ever had.
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Trent Reznor belts out a tune at the Greensboro Coliseum during the Nine Inch Nails show last week. (photo by Ryan Snyder.)