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…
NINE INCH NAILS
RED ROCKS SETLIST, SEPT 2, 2008
March Of The Pigs
Me, I’m Not
The Great Destroyer
5 Ghosts III
6 Ghosts II
19 Ghosts III
Piggy (Ghosts remake)
The Greater Good
31 Ghosts IV
Down In It
Head Like A Hole
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.