Some years back, Nine Inch Nails pretty on a pretty massive finale to what was a truly epic career. Dubbed the “Wave Goodbye” tour, it was to herald frontman Trent Reznor taking a large step back from live performance and the Nine Inch Nails entity itself. Or, sort of. At first it was started with the notion that it would be the end for Nine Inch Nails, but around the time the tour wrapped up Reznor made statements indicating that the end might only be a hiatus.
Reznor stepped back. He became a father, and during that time put together two pretty immaculate movie scores with writing partner Atticus Ross (their work on The Social Network won them an Oscar) and another new, excellent band How to destroy angels_ featuring his wife Mariqueen Maandig on lead vocals. The band came roaring back right after that.
Reznor switched managers (moving from Jim Guerinot to SAM founder John Silva), released the band’s latest album Hesitation Marks and then promptly went into an even bigger tour than the one that was to be their finale, complete with four live musicians and two female backing singers. The band then switched gears and announced another elaborate trek. This one, a shared jaunt with another 90s titan of alternative rock, Soundgarden.
Soundgarden was up first. Unlike earlier shows the band did at the onset of this year where the group predominantly played their landmark album Superunkown in its entirety to celebrate its 20th anniversary, this show featured a nice mix of material from throughout their storied career. Over the course of the set, the four-piece played four songs from their early 90s classic Badmotorfinger including “Searching with My Good Eye Closed” (the set opener), “Outshined,” “Jesus Christ Pose” and “Rusty Cage.” Superunkown cuts “Spoonman,” “The Day I Tried to Live,” “My Wave” “Fell on Black Days” also made an appearance over the course of the set. Most impressive amidst them was “Fell on Black Days,” the song a patient and groovy meditation. The band’s only new song that made an appearance was King Animal track “A Thousand Days Before.”
And while “Rusty Cage” didn’t quite measure up to the expected power the track overflows with on record, the set on the whole was a decidedly more enthused form of the band. The group seemed legitimately excited to be playing at the Hollywood Bowl. Far from the performance we witnessed back at SXSW where the band’s set focused on the Superunkown album felt like a forced run through, here the band seemed energized and worked hard to live up to the notoriety their back catalog once earned them. They wrapped their set with “Black Hole Sun” and “Beyond The Wheel,” another track from 1988 release Ultramega OK. Lead singer Chris Cornell introduced the song as one that he felt “self conscious” about after writing it due do its politically motivated content. He indicated he felt okay to play it again because, “It’s back in to fuck people and drop bombs on little babies,” an obvious reference to the recent conflicts in the Gaza Strip.
A brief intermission followed, and then Nine Inch Nails portion of the evening began. Much like most shows from this reformed period of the band’s career, this night began with Trent center stage solo, opening with the driving sequenced loops of “Copy of a.” The other band members Allesandro Cortini, Robin Finck and Ilan Rubin slowly joined him as the song’s instruments layered in. From there, they went all the way back to the band’s masterpiece Pretty Hate Machine for fan-favorite “Sanctified.” Hesitation Marks cut “Came Back Haunted” followed, an appropriate musical and symbolic reintroduction of Reznor and the Nine Inch Nails brand. The set pieces they worked so hard on at the beginning of the Tension 2013 tour have been elegantly refined. The main components are still six modular video projection walls. Each wall can independently or collaboratively with the others display a variety of different gorgeous video effects. Like a video editing bay that can be harnessed with the flexibility and depth of scale as an electric guitar, the video component becomes the band’s unnamed fifth player. By this point in the set (“1,000,000”) the walls were in place as backdrops largely being used to display splashes of color along side pulsating lights. This was only a small taste of what they were capable of.
The Downward Spiral cuts “March of the Pigs” and “Piggy” followed, the former a freight-train rant-and-release, the latter a calm, meditative and spooky self-reflection (complete with an astounding drum solo finale by Ilan Rubin). The band reached further back from there, dusting off “Terrible Lie” mutating its breakdown with portions of “Down in It” before heading to the song’s chaotic end. From there, the video array really started demonstrating its capabilities. “Closer” and “Gave Up” were delivered as if they were being performed from inside a supernova, the accompanying visuals containing a refracted series of warm oranges, reds and golds. The next two songs took the presentation back the other way. For “Disappointed” the monitors joined together literally became a video wall and played a soothing series of animating rectangles and on “Find My Way” the backdrop bloomed with a awakening warm blue. Like the sun was rising, only in a soothing soft light perfectly matching the steady and enveloping feel of the song.
From there, both the visuals and the music went for a more explosive feeling. “The Great Destroyer,” “Eraser” and “Wish” each upping the ante on how to drive home menacing and/or chaotic energy. And yes, “Eraser” and its closing howl of “Hate me / Smash me / Erase me / Kill me / Kill me / Kill me / Kill me / Kill me” is still super scary. The famous chorus of “Wish” produced the night’s biggest singalong, Reznor snarling “Wish there was something real / Wish there was something true / Wish there was something true / in this world full of you.”
The night concluded on a somewhat obvious–and yet seemingly impossible to reorder–trio of songs: “The Hand that Feeds,” “Head Like a Hole” and “Hurt.” All throughout the set and for these final three numbers, the band members all jumped between various instruments. Rubin, Finck and Cortini all expertly juggled these parts without any song losing an iota of momentum. It was here that the realization struck, that the members added for the Tension tour Josh Eustis (of Telefon Tel Aviv), Pino Palladino and the backup singers were absent. Count that as a good thing. When Eric Avery and Adrian Belew exited before the Tension tour it made major headlines, so while it’s disappointing that Pino and Josh’s exits seem to have come and gone quietly, it’s also encouraging to note that how well the four remaining members hold up the lion’s share of the instrumentation.
“The Hand that Feeds” and “Head Like a Hole” took the visual array into glitch-y found footage territory taking Massive Attack’s notion of discordant headlines and graphics to its logical extreme. And finally, “Hurt” as the set’s closing number was as sad, cathartic and thought provoking as it was when initially introduced in the early 90s. There really is nothing quite like the image of the dead-eyed snake filling the back wall of the venue while the song’s first pre-chorus melody is being softly strummed. The song itself is a fitting answer to all the rage and soul searching of the band’s music. It strikes a chord for honesty, laying bare the problems and doubts of its author. Diving deep into hopelessness it ends on a powerful and massive crescendo sung with understated power, stating that given the proper chance, there’s still time for redemption. It’s not too late to make things right. No matter how far we’ve fallen. No matter how ruined everything appears. No matter how little energy we have left. No matter how fruitless the effort seems. It is worth working to be better. Reznor’s implication in the finale is a physical distance to allow for the reboot, but maybe the distance is only from the thoughts, damage and despair that we cling to like an anchor. We think we need to hold to remember, to feel or to move through. But it’s the simple release that can put us a million miles away.
Searching With My Good Eye Closed
Jesus Christ Pose
The Day I Tried To Live
Fell on Black Days
A Thousand Days Before
Black Hole Sun
Beyond the Wheel
Nine Inch Nails Setlist:
Copy of a
Came Back Haunted
March of the Pigs
Find My Way
The Great Destroyer
The Hand That Feeds
Head Like a Hole
All photos by Raymond Flotat