Seeing Nine Inch Nails in concert isn’t a relaxing night out. In fact it may be the furthest thing there is from a night at the opera. It’s a grueling endurance test where the concert goer is bombarded with light and sound twisted and warped into an assault on the senses and it is something everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime, twice if you survive the first time.
Sure, most shows are loud and have intelligent lighting. This is nothing new but normally the creative team builds this around the stage to augment and showcase the artist. Most likely at the direction of Reznor himself, the team behind a NIN show aims it right at the audience and uses it as a weapon.
Strobes are fired off at the crowd in a disorientating barrage of light. This isn’t like having a flashlight pointed at you, this is more akin to a tidal wave of glowing white light that envelops your entire body. You can almost feel it and as quickly as it appears it is gone.
The speakers aren’t filling the room with sound so that you can hear the song from the back of the house. They aren’t there for mere amplification. They are targeting your upper body with bass so deep you feel your last meal shift in fear.
The dynamics of silence and noise keep you nervous in anticipation. One minute Trent is whisper-growling lyrics into the microphone with no accompaniment and the next it all goes to 11 as every frequency on the spectrum is unleashed at once. It’s similar to watching a scary film knowing that a jump-scare is coming you just don’t know when. Even though your brain comprehends and anticipates it’s arrival, your body can’t help but react when it does.
This may seem like an over-the-top description but it really is an experience and how else do you bring a catalog like Reznor’s to life? For decades he’s been twisting and mutiliating instruments, synths and feedback into unrecognizable shapes so it only makes sense that it gets a fitting delivery mechanism live and the audience can’t seem to get enough and neither can Reznor for that matter.
The NIN touring machine has a lot of miles on it and every time fans think its done they come roaring back. Atticus Ross is up there working the synths and Robin Finck is squeezing otherworldly sounds out of his guitar like his life depends on it. It looks exhausting. Reznor runs around the stage seemingly doing his best to expend the ever building energy within him. Even singing looks like it takes every muscle in his body. The result is a powerful performance that spans the width and breadth of the band’s catalog.
One of the main highlights of the evening is “The Perfect Drug” There was a lot of press recently about the song’s live debut and when you witness it you know why. Drummer Ilan Rubin becomes the focal point as he somehow plays the erratic and incredibly fast (149BPM!) beat for several minutes. If you were told they employed a drummer just for that song and gave him the next 23 hours off, you’d nod your head in agreement. On record it doesn’t sound like drums as we know them but you figure it’s been altered in the studio. Seeing someone actually do it live is worth the price of admission alone.
The rest of the evening has all the classics (“Head Like a Hole” “Hurt”) as well as newer material which sounds even better live. The audience leaves, battered and beaten raw by light and sound but hungry for more.