You guys, I am a huge Nine Inch Nails fan. #1! I believe I have more NIN mp3s than any other. It helps that there are a bunch of remixes. But The Downward Spiral was one of the first CDs I ever owned. I think I first heard "Closer" on a tape in India. I remember kids in junior high making fun of some guy wearing a NIN shirt, thinking he was a poseur whose favorite song was likely to be "Closer." I learned all about Halos from a guy I knew at the M.D. Anderson summer program. I bought a new Downward Spiral disc from Half-Price Books when my first one got scratched. I own every full album, plus extras like Broken and Further Down the Spiral. What I am saying is, I really love Nine Inch Nails and was very excited to see them live.
But first, some pre-show entertainment! I met Rick and the illustrious Cortney for dinner at Le Cheval, and then we BARTed down to Oracle Arena, where we followed all the people in black shirts. In true duchessdogberry fashion, however—appropriate since I was also wearing a black shirt, my TCBUMFHNEMC shirt—I took a couple pictures of interesting things.
The following is the greatest thing I have ever seen:
I don't know, Le Cheval. I just don't know.
Then, on BART, I walked into the train to see this:
It's the first Facebook-gum ad! Although, if you look closer, the rest of the ad says, "Close browser. Open arms. Make face time." So it's actually anti-Facebook! I thought it was a really neat ad campaign, actually. Very clever.
The opening band was Deerhunter, and they were all right. They had a nice sound, but...that's all they had. Sound. Their songs weren't songular. They were more atmospheric and ambient, with some words tossed in now and then, like Explosions in the Sky meets Bright Eyes. Hilariously, one of their influences is Liars. Of note, they had a chick guitarist! Usually if there's one girl in the band, she's the bassist (or the singer). I'd never seen a chick guitarist. She totally rocked out at the end of the set like she was the sprite in Guitar Hero.
After a long wait during which Rick commented that we had accidentally come to see Nine Centimeter Nails, the lights went off. We heard some very soft music that Rick and I both thought was from Ghosts until I realized at the last second that it was, in fact, "999,999" because it led right into "1,000,000." Check out the beginning of the video, at least. It was an awesome way to kick off the show since it starts off with a pounding drum beat, and then the guitarist runs up to the microphone to play his chords, now lit, and then, after the intro, boom, out of nowhere, there's Trent fucking Reznor grasping the microphone stand. As I learned over the course of the show, Trent really hates microphone stands. He would knock them down and throw them around frequently. I imagine that somewhere in NIN fandom someone has written Trent/mic stand hatesex fic.
They continued doing songs off The Slip like "Letting You" and, of course, "Discipline." I wished the keyboards had been higher in the latter because that's my favorite part of that song, and it was a little hard to make out. Because the music involves so much electronic stuff, it was sometimes hard to pick out what sounds were being created live, but there was enough going on on the stage that you could get a good idea of where some of the sound was coming from.
And then just when I thought they were going to confine themselves to newer stuff, Trent yelled, "March, you pigs!" Oh motherfucking hell yes, it was "March of the Pigs," one of my very favorites. And holy shit, it was insane. It was like the music video except ten times crazier. Perhaps even fifteen. A total riot on the stage. I mean, Trent's been doing this song for over a decade, and he doesn't appear to be having any less fun with it. That video picks up in the middle of the song, right after the first "Doesn't it make you feel better?" After which there was almost no pause, as they just kicked back into the insanity. But you can see the bonus insanity at the end! After "Everything is all right," instead of ending the song, they gave us another raucous take.
About here is where my memory of the setlist breaks down, as I'm unsure of the order of things, so bear with me. They did "Gave Up," which surprised and pleased me because I didn't know if they played stuff off Broken. There was a song Rick and I recognized but couldn't place, as we'd both only recently bought With Teeth and Year Zero. It might have been "My Violent Heart," I'm not sure. Could have been "Head Down," although that might have been later in the set. I'm kicking myself for not recognizing that one, though, since it's off The Slip, which I love.
The stage got quiet for...a piano! The first couple notes sounded like the intro to "Every Day Is Exactly the Same," so I got all excited, but I was wrong. This would happen frequently, actually. Everything was so...loud, sometimes, that it was hard to distinguish the intros. But what the song actually was was, surprisingly, "The Frail," which was cute. Aw, Trent playing the piano. And everyone cheering because IT'S SO HARDCORE AND AWESOME THAT PIANO MAN YEAH TRENT. Really, people, it's a quiet piano tune. SHUT THE EVER-LOVING FUCK UP AND LISTEN. Then came "Closer," which I was somewhat surprised to hear since I think it's their best-known song, and I know some bands get tired of playing their hits over and over. If you like "Closer," however, you need to watch that video (in high quality, because you can). It was really cool to hear some of the electronic bits replicated with a guitar, but the coolest part was that after the second chorus, as the song goes into the bridge/outro, Trent leapt into the air...and when he hit the ground, the song had morphed into the familiar tune of "That's What I Get." It was motherfucking sweet. They only did a few bars of that before getting back to "Closer," though.
I think it was after "Closer" that the curtain came down and the show was over. Or not. Because now the band was in front of the curtain, and it was time for the first of many crazy awesome light shows/visual effects with "The Warning" and "Vessel." In the former, large light splotches were right behind each band member, changing color and morphing to the music. The latter was perfectly done, as the song is based on a pulsating guitar chord that manifested as a giant pulse of light on the screen. Even better, when the song made rewind-y and static-y noises, the light reacted accordingly. It was very cool.
Once the curtain went up, though, we saw why they had come out in front. Because people in the back had been setting up for the next part of the show, which was several tracks from Ghosts. That video is really worth watching, you guys. The visuals were really impressive. I don't even know how they did it. They had three screens on stage, three layers, each with a different projection, yet some of it still slightly transparent at times. I don't know how they managed to get everything projected right without, you know, crossing the streams. There were so many awesome effects, like raining and breaking glass. It was a great way to add to the Ghosts music since those tracks don't really stand on their own; they're very ambient. It's a different sound from regular NIN. Someone was plucking a string bass, I'm pretty sure. And Trent Reznor was playing the glockenspiel.
We were in for a real treat, though. Because while they were still in the Ghosts setup, they did "Piggy"! And, oh man, if any song would work in that setup, it's "Piggy." It was really neat. I almost wanted them to try to do other songs in that stripped-down setup. But I was also hoping that they would sort of mashup that "Piggy" with the "Nothing Can Stop Me Now" version on Further Down the Spiral, to get the rockingness back.
They did another Ghosts track before getting back to the regular NIN stuff. Like "Survivalism," which was great. I was not geeky enough to throw my fist in the air to prove that I've got my fist I've got my plan I've got survivalism, but the cute girl two seats down was. I thought it was amusing since she was very tiny, and I didn't think her fist would be that useful.
The curtains came down and enveloped the band; all we could see were some white bars of light. And all we could hear was...holy shit, could it possibly be? It was. It was "The Big Come Down," one of my favorites off The Fragile, even though I had not listened to it in ages. And it sounded different live but awesome. A little more minor—actually, maybe more major?—key and darker. And since it was dark (not just musically), I couldn't tell what was going on when Trent totally skipped a few lines of the chorus.
Still within the curtains, they went into "Only," which was neatly done because the screen displayed a wall of static except for Trent poking giant holes in it from behind. The hole would open and close around him throughout the song; sometimes the whole screen would go transparent so you could see everyone. Are you watching the video? You should really be watching the video. It does a much better job showing you what I'm talking about.
Next up—unless this was when they played one of my favorite Ghosts tracks, which I misidentified as "The Four of Us Are Dying" to Rick—was "The Greater Good," which was the only time we got a good view of Trent's face, since it was digitized on the screen. We could see his tongue and everything.
Then, you guys, you guys, watch this. Because some dude came on and ERASED THE SCREEN WITH HIS FLASHLIGHT. (Yes, I know he was not literally doing it, but the effect was awesome.) Even better, they were playing "Pinion," which meant...holy fucking shit, yes, they were doing "Wish"! Which was totally awesome, as expected. Having the chorus sung by three people worked really well, and it highlighted the coolness went Trent sang it solo at the end.
"Terrible Lie" was way cooler than I expected, though, since it's not one of my very favorites. But they played the living shit out of that song, and Trent sang like he wanted God Himself to fucking hear him. I seriously thought it was the closer, but no, they still had "The Hand That Feeds" and "Head Like a Hole" to do.
After "Head Like a Hole," Trent said, "Thank you!" Which was pretty much the only thing he had said to the audience besides "March, you pigs!" He doesn't do the banter; he just rocks out. And puts on a fucking amazing show. The NIN logo came up on the screen as we waited in the dark for the inevitable encore. I checked the time. To my surprise, it had only been an hour and forty-five minutes. It had felt like three damn hours, they had played so much.
Some shapes appeared on the screen, and someone walked on to turn white-bordered black squares red. It was very impressive, given that the red squares would appear pretty randomly, so his timing and memorization had to be pretty good to keep the effect. I recognized the Casio keyboard intro as "Echoplex," another of my favorites off The Slip. After the song was over, the guy turned the red squares back to black. Watch the video, it's neat.
And then Trent thanked us. But kept talking. TRENT REZNOR WAS TALKING TO US OMG. IT WAS LIKE HE WAS A REAL PERSON. He said that he'd had a lot of fun playing for us, even if he'd gotten old and cranky. He introduced his bandmates and then the next song as "something from Year Zero." It was "God Given," which I loved.
Then he did "Hurt," which was awesome to hear live because it's so much about Trent's vocal performance, which you can't really appreciate for most of the show since it's hard to make out what he's saying in the sea of music. I wished huge crowds weren't so addicted to cheering because, oh my God, I know you and your friends and your friends' dogs all worship "Hurt," but shut up and appreciate the damn song if you love it so much. Cheer AFTERWARD. Not DURING. It was quiet enough, however, to distinctly hear a woman shout, "I love you, Trent Reznor!" Which was amusing. I assumed "Hurt" was the closer, but toward the end, someone brought out a little piano for Trent, so his raised arm and "Thank you!" were not a sign of the end.
The closer was "In This Twilight," off
It had been an awesome fucking show—oh, man, I totally forgot to mention that we felt an earthquake during the show...like, our seats swayed back and forth for a couple seconds. They spanned the NIN catalogue, although the setlist was surprisingly Fragile-light, with only one real song from those two discs' worth of material. Still, it helps that I love the majority of their songs, so it would have been hard to put together a disappointing setlist. I love NIN and think Trent is awesome even more now. I'd always heard he put on a great show, but holy shit. You've got some competition, Radiohead. Look, if you didn't bother clicking on individual song links, at least watch this little montage of the visual effects for this tour.
I no longer have a face because it has been rocked clean off. My life feels sad and hollow now that I am not rocking out with Nine Inch Nails. If you are interested in joining me in industrial rock electronica bliss, I pretty much have every NIN song there is, so let's talk.