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Nine Inch Nails calls it quIts at Bonnaroo

by Ryan Snyder

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It was a year full of surprises at the 2009 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. Hip-hop hermit Nas made a rare onstage appearance with the Beastie Boys; Bruce Springsteen honored an odd request of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” in mid-June and also appeared during Phish’s second show; Jimmy Buffet was a last-second addition for a Saturday afternoon performance; the traditional Bonnaroo Superjam came to an unfortunate end; and Public Enemy reminded everyone in attendance who the Kings of Hip Hop are and will always be. Yet, nothing was more shocking than the official announcement by Nine Inch Nails front man Trent Reznor that their Saturday late-night show would really be their last American performance.

There had been acknowledged but unconfirmed rumors swirling prior to the show that Reznor had tired of taking the band on the road and would wrap up in Europe, but it wasn’t until “The Hand that Feeds,” 20 songs into a blistering two-hour, 15-minute set that he made a statement directly to that effect. “It just dawned on me that this is our last show ever in the United States,” Reznor told the crowd. “Don’t be sad. I’ll keep going. But I think I’m going to lose my f**king mind if I keep doing this, and I have to stop.” Just half an hour after Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band commanded all of Bonnaroo’s attention, Reznor and his bandmates were set on going out with more of a roar rather than a whimper. The effects and lighting personnel at the Which Stage teased the excited crowd mightily during the pre-show equipment check, as tens of thousands gathered around to see of one of the flagship acts of the industrial genre. Dense clouds of smoke billowed out intermittently from the stage, while the complex lighting rigs created a foreboding image of things to come. The set-up wasn’t on par with their otherworldly stage show during the Lights in the Sky tour, but visually magnificent nonetheless and one of the best of the weekend. As the lights dropped and the band walked silently on stage, they prepared to unleash a set list full of rarities, covers and surprises that would make for a truly fitting swan song. The show opened with staples like “Home,” “Terrible Lie,” “Discipline,” and “March of the Pigs,” before getting deep into his and the catalogs of some of his own favorite acts. “The Becoming” and later, “Mr. Self Destruct,” were played, which hadn’t appeared since the band’s 2006 tour. The slow growl of Gary Numan’s “Metal” was concluded by a wearied “thank you” to the audience, as Reznor pulled out some of his collaborative material, including “I’m Afraid of Americans” (David Bowie) and “Banged and Blown Through” (Saul Williams). After explaining to the crowd that the band had looked at Bonnaroo’s schedule and saw a number of kick-ass bands on the line-up, they realized their friends the Dillinger Escape Plan would be present and accounted for, Trent Reznor invited them to the stage after “Head Like a Hole” to “increase the Dillinger Escape Plan’s coolness” by having them sit in on the set-closing “Wish.” Of course, they would return for an encore that would lay waste to an already devastated audience. With a five-song farewell, Joy Division’s “Dead Souls” preceded two pieces that added an especially somber touch to the set. “The Day the World Went Away” spoke for itself, while an especially intense “Hurt” sent the band away properly as the line “everyone I know/goes away in the end” put the finishing touches on a legendary band. As the dense crowd thinned down, clouds of smoke emitted from the stage mixed with the early-morning condensation around the next stage over to envelop a band performing an epic set in their own right. Jam juggernauts moe. one-upped their memorable sixhour set in the festival’s inaugural weekend with a slew of guests that included Warren Haynes and Grace Potter. For a moment, it placated the emotions that accompany the loss of a band that so many hold so closely and would still never forget.

Trent Reznor says farewell to fans at Bonnaroo. (photo by Ryan Snyder)

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