Nine Inch Nails | 08.20.08

nin08-header.jpgReznor’s at his best when he mixes up his musical personalities, careening back and forth between danceable industrial grooves, angst-ridden metal, and dark mood pieces.

 

PHOTO: Rob Sheridan 

w/ A Place to Bury Strangers

Scottrade Center, St. Louis

 

Technology has allowed Trent Reznor to give his fans a lot over recent years, like the ability to create their own remixes of their favorite Nine Inch Nails songs, a free downloadable copy of the his latest album, The Slip, earlier this year, and, in a live setting, unique light shows and video screens that help accentuate the haunting moods within Reznor’s music. Nine Inch Nails is a band that truly thrives in the live setting; if I was hard-pressed to make a list of my favorite concerts I’ve ever attended, the St. Louis date of The Fragile tour would easily make the top five, a concert so viscerally stunning and exhausting that it left me barely able to move. NIN’s last stop in St. Louis, which I reviewed in the November 2005 edition of PLAYBACK:stl (for those, like me, who hoard your Playback back issues from back in our site’s print days), just might eke its way into the top 10.

The band’s latest swing through town wasn’t quite in the same league, but that isn’t to say it wasn’t a fantastic show. Because it was: the high-octane industrial crunch, Reznor’s angst-ridden screams, and the captivating, intricate light show that makes NIN shows such a thrill were all in attendance. But a lengthy slowdown of the pace in the middle of the show sapped just enough of the show’s energy to bump it down from top ten territory to merely "great."

If you were a fan of Reznor’s latest opus, this was the night for you, as the concert opened with five of the first six tracks from The Slip. The crowd went wild as the lights dropped and the pulsating instrumental "999,999" wafted through the rafters before "1,000,000" broke the show wide open on the strength of two of NIN’s prodigal sons: sometime A Perfect Circle drummer Josh Freese, and guitarist Robin Finck, returning from his stint as guitarist in Guns n’ Roses. "1,000,000" benefited greatly from Freese’s whip-crack drums and Finck’s chugging guitar, but it was when Reznor burst onto the stage that the building truly came to life. As Reznor raised his hands triumphantly as both the instruments and lights dropped out during a momentary mid-song break, and the crowd screamed in approval.

"Discipline"’s grooving bass and new wave-y keyboards gave way to the speedcore brutality of "March of the Pigs." The Downward Spiral classic didn’t quite gel until the first chorus, but when it did, the throngs crowded in the spacious general admission area moved and clapped and screamed along. "Pigs" slid somewhat clumsily into "Head Down," a new song that’s high on aggression but whose weird time signature lacks the danceability Reznor usually brings to the table.

Crowd response was high throughout the night, whether they were hoisting lighters during the piano piece "The Frail" or going nuts from the instantly recognizable beat of "Closer." Reznor, in turn, gave back, crouching at the front of the stage for "Closer" as if he were propositioning every person in the crowd to be fucked like an animal. In an aural sense, anyway, they sure seemed pleased with the offer.

The momentum, sadly, couldn’t hold. The pace took a downturn with "Me, I’m Not" and stayed there for a lengthy run through down-tempo tracks, mostly from Reznor’s other 2008 release, the instrumental Ghosts I-IV. Not that this portion of the show was boring…far from it, actually. In typical Reznor form, the stage set-up was fantastic: as the band played through the instrumental section, semi-opaque screens were lowered to accent the songs with footage of clouds, rain, dunes…whatever fit the mood of the songs. (One of the neater tricks involved the screens turning into rows of cubes that Reznor would walk buy and hit to light up, the lights becoming the beats of the drum machine. It’s hard to describe, but it was really quite ingenious.) The slower songs themselves (including "Piggy," accented with ukelele, and the Year Zero track "The Greater Good") were beautifully arranged, and quite adventurous — marimba, anyone? — but there were far too many in a row. Reznor’s at his best when he mixes up his musical personalities, careening back and forth between danceable industrial grooves, angst-ridden metal, and dark mood pieces. The lengthy portion of the latter that made up the middle of the show was good, but just a little bit too much of a good thing.

For years, Reznor opened his shows with "Pinion" (the short not-quite-a-song that opened the 1990 EP Broken), but here it stood as the opening for the concert’s crowd-pleasing, singles-heavy back third. Finck tore out a brutal, Sabbath-esque solo on "Wish," "Terrible Lie" got the crowd to hoist their devil horns high, and the mix of pulsing verses and hardcore chorus gave "Survivalism" a nice kick. The With Teeth track "Only" rode a throbbing funk bass line and a disco backbeat, and a brutal run through the classic single "Head Like a Hole" got the crowd worked into a frenzy as the main set wrapped up (although, oddly, the backing band took care of vocals on the song’s signature chorus, not Reznor).

Returning for a six-song encore, the band concentrated once again on a slower pace, but the songs flowed well from one to the next, gradually building energy until peaking with the grinding Downward Spiral track "Reptile" and the danceable "God Given."

For all the slow songs that didn’t quite connect before, it was "Hurt" that connected the most. The arena was lit brighter than it had been all night as Freese’s tribal drums buoyed Reznor’s emotive pleas. It was easily the night’s most powerful moment, and could have ended the show on a cathartic and crowd-pleasing note, but instead the band chose to add one more song, "In This Twilight," ending with each band member leaving the stage one by one until Reznor stood alone at a keyboard onstage.

Brooklyn, New York, trio A Place to Bury Strangers opened the show with a fairly lengthy set of traditional shoegaze, all feedback-soaked guitars and echo-drenched vocals. The songs were all played blisteringly loud, and, like on their debut album, all blended together into an enjoyable but indistinguishable mush. The band didn’t have much of a stage presence (par for the course for shoegaze, of course) and the crowd seemed fairly disinterested during the songs, but the applause between songs was fairly boisterous. Though the light show was fairly unobtrusive for most of their performance, strobes kicked on during the last song and lasted for a full seven minutes after I noticed they had already been on for way too long. For an opening band, purposefully trying your audience’s patience as you leave the stage seems an odd way to win new fans. | Jason Green

 

Complete Nine Inch Nails Setlist

999,999
1,000,000
Letting You
Discipline
March of the Pigs
Head Down
The Frail
The Wretched
Closer
Gave Up

Me, I’m Not
The Great Destroyer

Ghosts 17
Ghosts 28
Ghosts 19
unidentified Ghosts track

Piggy

The Greater Good
Pinion
Wish
Terrible Lie
Survivalism
The Big Come Down
Ghosts 31
Only
Head Like a Hole

 

Encore:

Echoplex
Love is Not Enough
Reptile
God Given
Hurt
In This Twilight

 

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