September 3, 2008

you make me perfect :: Nine Inch Nails at Red Rocks last night

A lot of sentiments seem to diminish and dissipate through daily life as we grow up into adults who hold jobs, buy groceries and maybe even do responsible things like invest a fraction of our paychecks into some Orange ING account somewhere.

Me, I was once 15 and I once listened to a lot of Nine Inch Nails. Whole worlds of emotion, rage, angst, sex, God, fear and doubt all unveiled themselves to me through albums like Pretty Hate Machine and The Downward Spiral. And now I’m 29 with a whole lot more living behind me, and even as life looks so different, there’s still something in me that is drawn to the stuff Trent Reznor is creating. I was surprised by that last night, in the unseasonably crisp night air of Red Rocks.

Nine Inch Nails has not gone anywhere, I am very aware of that, and of all the inventive and intelligent music that Reznor continues to produce (even bucking the commercial norms by releasing his latest album The Slip for absolute free). But I will admit that my affinity for regularly listening to him has waned, partly in the face of so much other new music and also partly because I’m occupied with things like acoustic singer-songwriters with soaring harmonies. I have, in a word, gone a bit soft.

Reznor is not only a sonic genius, but he is a man who scribes some of the most ragingly incisive and achingly honest lyrics of anyone out there. At last night’s sold-out show, NIN absolutely blew me away with a dazzling, LOUD, intense performance. My friend Adam saw them last month; it was his 22nd show and he’d place it in the top 3. This was my first actual Nine Inch Nails show (saw Trent acoustic in 2006), so count my face as summarily melted — definitely one of the best rock shows I’ve seen in years.

The one thing I didn’t expect was how I felt a churning, pent-up intensity building somewhere in my gut throughout the show — a simultaneous tension and physical catharsis, a release. There’s something irreplicable about yelling along with 10,000 people to lyrics like, “I wanna break it up, I wanna smash it up, I wanna fuck it up, I wanna watch it go down” (when seriously the last thing I broke was a favorite pint glass, on accident). I didn’t expect it to all feel so real.

The current band lineup (Freese, Finck, Meldal-Johnson, Cortini) helps Trent make some of the most blistering industrial rock music you can see in concert these days. They also did it while looking damn amazing. The light show aspect of the night was nothing short of breathtaking — between shimmering LED curtains of white that repelled away from Trent’s body and he moved closer, to sound bars of blue that rose and fell across the front of the stage through Trent’s taunts of “Hey pig piggie pig…” — it was unparalleled. We felt like kids, the way my friend and I kept oohing and aahing whenever the display made our jaws drop once again.

If the groundbreaking Pretty Hate Machine was released in 1989, that means next year it will be 20. But even stretching back to the beginning, the songs that NIN performed from that record last night sounded as vital and current to me as anything I hear on the radio — nay, more vital, more current. I have always appreciated Trent’s vulnerability in his lyrics, and going live through the ebb and flow of spiritual questioning with him on songs like “Terrible Lie” still got me. For all the hatred and anger in that song (“You made me throw it all away, my morals left to decay…” ) he then flips immediately to a childlike pleading, “I want so much to believe.” It was something of a masterpiece then and it still felt that way last night.

Check out this mysterious video that just surfaced of “Down In It” into “Head Like A Hole” – no lie, I just got goosebumps watching it again:

There was an oasis in the middle of the set where the band recreated the spectral sonic landscapes of the Ghosts I-IV instrumental album and got all prog-rock with ukeleles, marimbas and heaving symphonies of string instruments. Some would call it indulgent, but I thought it fascinating. Now if only they’d found a way to put “The Perfect Drug” (possibly my favorite NIN song) somewhere in the set…

Letting You
March Of The Pigs
Head Down
The Frail
Gave Up
Me, I’m Not
The Great Destroyer
5 Ghosts III
6 Ghosts II
19 Ghosts III
Piggy (Ghosts remake)
The Greater Good
Terrible Lie
31 Ghosts IV
Down In It
Head Like A Hole
God Given
In This Twilight

In the closing moments of the show, after Trent talked about both how much he loves playing Red Rocks (“Tonight, I can see every single one of your faces”) and how unseasonably cold it was (“I don’t even know if I match, I just put on everything I own”), NIN stripped it all back and the almost-hesitant opening notes of “Hurt” floated over the sea of people.

So maybe it was just me, and the very specific and personal things about my night last night, but I don’t want to forget sentiments like the beautifully sad ones that Trent surgically excises. For as many times as I’ve heard “Hurt” on the radio, I felt such a huge and surprising resonance as Trent and then the whole crowd passionately swore, “If I could start again, a million miles away, I would keep myself, I would find a way.”

Wouldn’t we all.

[top photo from last night credit Chad Fahnestock,
other shots from this Flickrer

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  • The visuals at this show were easily the best I’ve seen in a long time, and I’m still in awe over the amount of creativity and effort put into it. Most interesting IMO: the rainfall projection and the desert landscape.

    Lance — September 4, 2008 @ 12:03 am

  • Your ‘going soft’ comment made me a laugh. I’m of a similar age and could also be accused of having gone soft on singer-songwriters of late. However, I’ve followed NIN over the last 15 years or so and was thrilled to get to see them on their European tour last summer supporting the Foo Fighters (Wrong way round if you ask me!) They haven’t come off my most played list since. The red Red Rocks show looked fantastic – thanks for the post.

    Barry — September 4, 2008 @ 4:02 am

  • I too have thought I was over my Nine Inch Nails period, and that all those slightly older kids with black lipstip and black hair and guys with black eyeliner simply marked an irrational 90′s trend. Then I actually saw them live, at a small(er) club show in Chicago right before With Teeth came out.

    Nathan — September 4, 2008 @ 6:45 am

  • Yup. Perfectly stated as usual. I saw them on August 24th at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Standing on the wood floor where giant men throw around a rubber ball did nothing to distract from Trent and company’s incredible presence. I as well listen to much Northwestern folk rock to be a consistent listener, but it was great to be that sullen teenager and actually see the band that I always wanted to see live. Ever since watching them whip each other around with their instrument cords at Woodstock 94, covered in mud, I’ve always thought, “Now that has got to be a great live show.” and Trent never let me down after all those years have gone by. So glad you enjoy them too.

    Kelly — September 4, 2008 @ 11:47 am

  • I renewed my love for Trent “The Machinist” Reznor a couple of years ago with that Boston radio show with Peter Murphy, Atticus and Jeordie Wight. NIN still amazes, by how much he pushes it but still sounds so honest. Being original and honest in music seems so freakin’ hard nowadays! Long live Trent Reznor!

    Uma Pessoa — September 4, 2008 @ 3:51 pm

  • Wow. It was truly an amazing show. I would do the 8-hour drive again in a heartbeat!
    Thanks for posting the setlist – I was too caught up to write notes! Ack!

    caseybhen — September 4, 2008 @ 5:17 pm

  • God, I love them. Excellent post – thanks for sharing!

    Kris W — September 4, 2008 @ 9:30 pm

  • Anyone heard the version of Hurt that Eddie Vedder did in Chicago – pretty cool.

    Also, in a Red Rocks related way – Eddie also did Ship Song, which they last performed at Red Rocks in 1995.

    Mark — September 5, 2008 @ 7:49 am

  • Hey mark – indeed. You can hear their cover of Ship Song here.

    heather — September 5, 2008 @ 9:18 am

  • This show was phenomenal, and it is the best show I have seen ever. After looking at your photos, I noticed the camera in most your shots. When I looked closer I recognized my own hand and camera. Sorry for being in your shots, but I had to take a lot of photos to keep for memory. One of the best nights in my life, want to look back on that night when I’m 80.

    Sorry for ruining your pics!

    Anonymous — September 5, 2008 @ 12:57 pm

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
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