Two Mondays ago I saw Nine Inch Nails live for the first time at the Fox Theatre in Detroit. Up until that point, I thought I was a big NIN fan, but after going to their show and discovering that I could sing along to almost all of their lyrics, I knew that I was. In case you don’t know what Nine Inch Nails is, here’s some exposition: Nine Inch Nails (abbreviated NIN) is an industrial metal band formed in Cleveland, Ohio in 1988. Up until very recently, Trent Reznor was the founder and sole producer, singer, songwriter and instrumentalist for the band. No easy task for the incredibly intricate and conceptual albums NIN has released. Selling over 20 million records, the band has seen great success in the United States as well as overseas and, as of 2016, Trent added English musician Atticus Ross as a permanent member.
Alright, back to the concert!
After the last opening act The Jesus and Mary Chain finished up their set, a large Downward Spiral -esque tapestry was put on display to serve as the backdrop for the rest of the night. Smoke machines auspiciously filled up the stage as the crowd patiently waited for the main event. Opening with perhaps the most abrasive song in the entire Nine Inch Nails discography “Somewhat Damaged” was the perfect way to immediately get the anxious crowd on their feet and headbanging. Trent’s clean vocals over a modified intro carried into a frenzy of palm-muted riffs paired with eclectic flashing lights that could be seen through the fog still condensed on stage. Following this energetic start, the band transitioned into a slower, more melodic, “The Day The Whole World Went Away,” who’s dynamic intro and outro were paired with contrasting warm and cool lighting effects for a strong emotional effect. This actually mirrors the song order from The Fragile which both songs come from (not on accident).
After this, “Wish” and “Last” two songs from NIN’s first EP, Broken, were played back to back mirroring the order on that record as well. During “Wish,” spastic strobe lights matched with the main guitar riff only to relent during the chorus, “Wish there was something real in this world full of you!”
Trailing on the energy from “Last,” the band transitions into the fast-paced “March of the Pigs,” until reaching the heart-wrenching ballad “Something I Can never have.” All other band members vacated the stage except for Robin Finck on solo piano and, of course, Trent singing. During the course of the song, Trent’s emotional trauma connected to it was clearly evident, and he could even be seen wiping away a few tears that obstinately refused to stay in their ducts (or maybe it was just sweat). Two more songs from the extremely danceable Pretty Hate Machine followed this which was a nice surprise throwback for Nine Inch Nails fans.
This is when the band transitioned into new material playing three songs from Bad Witch. Performing newer songs was probably a fun break for Trent who’d likely been playing his hits for almost two decades. During “God Break Down The Door,” Trent even pulled out his saxophone for a screeching instrumental bridge.
After that odd and bubbly song followed the fan favorite “Closer” with a modified interpolation from other NIN track “The Only Time.” With lyrics like, “I wanna f*** you like an animal” and “I wanna feel you from the inside” it’s not hard to see why this is a favorite for hardcore fans. This led up the climax of the entire concert; “Reptile.” The driving snare drum groove paired with the excellent bass tone from the speakers drove on this anthemic version of the song. Amidst the machine noises and frenzied drumming, green “reptilian” -esque overhead strobe lights pulsed with the main drum kit pattern from the song, creating an enchantingly captivating atmosphere.
To finish out, two more songs from Broken were played, followed by the awesome closer “Head Like A Hole.” The band packed up, the lights turned off and the show was over.
Until it wasn’t.
For the encore, they performed “The Perfect Drug” which was originally written for the soundtrack of Lost Highway, a film directed by David Lynch. Afterward, Trent admitted to not being able to perform it for a long time because he hated who he was when he wrote it before cynically adding, “But I don’t hate myself, as much.” As the true closer, the absolutely harrowing and eerily mellifluous “Hurt” served as the final nail in the coffin for what was an intensely personal and heartfelt performance. Again Robin and Trent were the only two souls on stage, Robin aiding Trent with “Hurt’s” discordant guitar melodies over the song’s ambient wind track. It was hard not to shed a tear while Trent vehemently wept,
“What have I become?
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know
goes away in the end.”
Ironically, this song is the final one on The Downward Spiral as well, the concept of which follows a protagonist who is slowly taken over by his demons despite his attempts to overcome them, not unlike Trent himself; the difference being that at the end of the album the protagonist eventually succumbs to the darkest parts of his own mind and commits suicide via gunshot. The final words,
“If I could start again
A million miles away
I will keep myself
I would find a way,”
were barely audible over the thunderous synthesizers which formed a cacophonous maelstrom of light and sound whose intensity was akin to a supernova.
The fantastic energy and emotional pacing of the setlist coupled with truly mesmerizing pyrotechnics all came together in a way that only Nine Inch Nails could be worthy of displaying. Though they are touring in support of their new Bad Witch EP, Trent drew extensively from classic records such as Broken and Pretty Hate Machine as a gift for long-time NIN fans, and it was much appreciated. Trent Reznor’s genius is truly something to behold. Though I tried, words are infinitely inferior to actually experiencing Nine Inch Nails live. They’re almost at the end of their Cold And Black And Infinite tour but you can still catch them before the end of the year if you don’t mind stretching your wallet a bit. If you’re a Nine Inch Nails fan and are able, I would strongly encourage you to see them.