Nine Inch Nails - PNC Bank Arts Center - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

Nine Inch Nails - PNC Bank Arts Center

by paul_guyet Rating:6 Release Date:2012-03-25

copy of a (setlist)

Trent Reznor does not want Nine Inch Nails to become a nostalgia act. He’s said this numerous times in recent years as he nears 50, Nine Inch Nails nears 30, and his breakthrough album, The Downward Spiral, hits 20. What better way then to combat those creeping feelings of obsolescence then by co-headlining a tour with Soundgarden, another band from the 90s, who also released their breakthrough album, Superunknown, 20 years ago this March?

Perhaps Reznor could engineer the tour’s setlist to focus on a number of well-worn, radio friendly 'greatest hits'? Or maybe reuse the stage set-up and lighting rig from the festival tour he embarked upon just last year? Hm. I’m beginning to suspect that Trent Reznor doesn’t know what the word 'nostalgia' means…

Something I should mention up front: I am spoiled. These most recent Nine Inch Nails shows were my 14th and 15th since I first saw them in 2000 on their Fragility v2.0 tour. I haven’t missed a tour since and try my best to see them more than once whenever possible.

After every NIN concert, I say, out loud, “How the fuck is Reznor going to top that?”, and he always, always does. Either with the next iteration’s huge, mind-blowing production (Fragility, the 2005 Live: With Teeth arena tour, Lights in the Skytension) or a massively diverse set list (the 2005 club tour, the 2009 NINJA and Wave Goodbye tours). So my hopes were, understandably, elevated for these shows, although I was expecting a somewhat truncated set, as this was a co-headlining tour.

What I got for my time, money and effort was... or minus Joshua Eustis and a song or two. 
That show was recorded over a year ago. There’s also the fact that the setlists for both these shows, one on the first of August and one on the second, one venue a 90-minute drive from the other, were exactly the same - something which hasn’t happened since 1989, when Nine Inch Nails had only a dozen songs in their repertoire.

There’s more I could say about this odd and heartbreaking snafu, but I don’t want to bore you more than you’ve already been bored; I apologize for having done so. So, rather than make this (more) personal and bitch about getting to see one of my favorite artists two nights in a row (who on Earth wants to read that?), I’m going to switch perspectives and assume that of a more levelheaded and objective writer. 

The shows were fantastic. Technically, Reznor managed to take the grandeur of the 2013 tension tour and minimize it so that it fit into an amphitheater, yet still managed to stun with its visuals and scope, especially during moments like the three-minute aural assault at the end of 'The Great Destroyer', which featured Reznor, alone on stage, working out all his aggression on a series of buttons and knobs while, behind him, a pocket galaxy exploded on the row of 10-foot LED panels.

Those panels, used in almost every song, were the visual theme which tied the whole show together. Sometimes, like in 'Sanctified', they merely stood, utilized as flats; other times, they were a source of video, either forming one large screen (as with 'Hurt' and 'Disappointed'), or broken into several, individual units (as with 'Terrible Lie' and 'Gave Up'), and, once or twice, their full potential was met, when they were positioned and repositioned multiple times in one song in order to create a sense of depth and movement, such as with 'Eraser' and 'Closer'.

Musically, the band attacked each and every song with a seemingly bottomless reservoir of energy, sometimes scrambling across the stage to play different instruments during the same tune. Standouts included 'Disappointed', which featured a modified and evolved version of its visuals from the 2013 tour and an excellent and shockingly funky bass performance from Ilan Rubin (normally on drums, or rather, normally tasked with utterly obliterating the drums), 'The Great Destroyer', and 'Gave Up', which still retains its jagged, explosive heart after its introduction to the band’s live set more than two decades ago.

As a whole, the setlist was a strong representation of the span of Nine Inch Nails’ career, centering mostly on their first two albums, Pretty Hate Machine and The Downward Spiral, and their most recent one, the extremely well-crafted and nuanced Hesitation Marks. The only element lacking was The Fragile, arguably one of the band’s best albums, which turns 15 in a little over a month; its absence was palpable.

While one could contend that this was a 'greatest hits' show or that the band is venturing dangerously close to becoming a 'nostalgia act', Nine Inch Nails redefines these (usually derogatory) terms, and makes them something to be proud of, something to strive for, an accomplishment rather than a detriment. Nine Inch Nails is still vital and still has the ability to surprise. 

Okay, enough objectivity; back to my meaningless and vitriolic personal opinions. A few months ago, Reznor announced he was going to be scoring the next David Fincher film, an adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. The film is slated for an October 4 release, which means the score has to be completely wrapped up several weeks before that. I attribute my disappointment to the fact that Reznor did something all us normal humans do: he overbooked himself. Sometimes, when you overbook yourself, you’re able to pull it off without anyone noticing, but other times, it shows, and people notice you’re spreading yourself too thin. 

Trent, we can tell you’re spreading yourself too thin. It’s showing, now, plainly, on this tour. Casual fans aren’t noticing because they are just that, casual fans. But the obsessed fans, like myself and hundreds of others, are noticing, and they are bummed out by the fact that they aren’t utterly gobsmacked as they’re walking out of your shows.

This is the downside to being an amazing performer who ups the ante and redefines what a live show has the potential to be every time he tours: eventually, you get distracted and divide your time and your hardcore, foaming-at-the-mouth fans notice and call you on it. But I don’t believe Trent Reznor needs people to call him on it. I honestly believe he knows, and, hopefully, he won’t do this in the future.

I don’t think anyone is more disappointed in Reznor than Reznor himself. Or, to put all this a touch more bluntly: that Gone Girl  score had better blow my brain out of my skull. If you aren’t an overprivileged, obsessed asshole of a Nine Inch Nails fan like myself, go see Nine Inch Nails on their tour with Soundgarden; you’ll enjoy it immensely.*

A note on the pictures: I am not a good photographer. At all. Not only are my pictures of low quality, they don’t do the majesty of this stage set up justice. So, I’ve attached links to some equally blurry yet demonstrative video clips for the sake of context. It’s hard to appreciate just how amazing a Nine Inch Nails stage show is without seeing it in action. 

*And, just to prove I’m not always a whiny, unappreciative tool, here is my glowing review of the last time I saw Nine Inch Nails; on their tension tour, in October 2013.

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Great piece of writing as always.

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