After 20-plus years of touring, some musicians lean into their stage act’s age, pandering to fans who expect everything to look and sound just as it did in their youths. Others deliver over-the-top performances filled with costume changes, superfluous reinvention of image and sound, desperate to justify their longevity.
Then there’s Nine Inch Nails: referencing a storied past while marching uncompromisingly forward. You will hear “Head Like a Hole” for the billionth time and you will fucking love it even if you say you don’t. You will be entertained non-ironically; you will enjoy hits of the late ’80s, ’90s and today, without the aid of an easy-listening radio station, because NIN spans it all. You will remember why you give a shit. You will be haunted.
CCP caught Trent and Co. on their stop in Boston for the Tension 2013 tour to see what exactly Reznor’s come back haunted with.
“Copy of A,” the second single from NIN’s latest effort, “Hesitation Marks,” opened their Boston show. The audience response was big and positive—one would expect nothing less; the track includes everything we’ve come to love about and expect from a NIN single. But let’s make sure we’re on the same page, here:
- Nine Inch Nails (if we’re to believe the definition offered on their Wikipedia article) is less band, more “Industrial Rock Project.”
- Nine Inch Nails was founded in 1988 by front man, primary composer and performer Trent Reznor, who has been the only consistent studio and live performer since the project’s inception.
- Trent Reznor = NIN.
When we talk about NIN—whether by specific song, album or tour, the importance of NIN to industrial music specifically or popular music at large, the impact upon the music production and consumption landscape of the last 25 years and how major acts (with or without labels) engage their audiences—we’re talking about Reznor.
The man is a force. While we have him to thank/blame for unleashing Marilyn Manson upon the 1990s by signing him to his Nothing label, he’s made up for it several dozen times over by consistently producing quality work under the NIN name—including blistering large-scale shows with 25-song-deep set lists that make you feel OK about being in an arena for a rock show.
“But industrial rock? Drum machines and sound effects and inorganic instruments? How do you do that live? Does he press a button and walk away?”
No, and if he did, the world wouldn’t have mourned so deeply when, in 2009, Reznor announced NIN would no longer tour. But prior to releasing this year’s “Hesitation Marks,” Reznor put a live crew together again and hit the road, first making stops on the summer-festival circuit stateside and abroad then continuing on with the Tension 2013 tour.
Have you heard “Hesitation Marks”? No? You’re missing out. Less angsty than early NIN, less political than 2007’s “Year Zero” (NIN’s last major-label effort) but every bit as rocking and, let’s face it, grooveable, as your old favorites, “Hesitation Marks”’ first single, “Came Back Haunted,” dropped this summer and was initially leaked online before appearing on NIN’s official sites, shortly thereafter with a music video directed by David Lynch.
“Came Back Haunted” appeared a third of the way through the October 11th set, and like the other single from the latest album, the audience responded positively. But old favorites reigned supreme: “Terrible Lie,” off “Pretty Hate Machine” from way back (ha!) in 1989, was played third and evoked one of the night’s bigger audience reactions.
And let’s linger on this.
While TD Garden was filled with fans of varying ages—the GA section on the floor was a predominately young crowd. And as these young fans pumped their fists in the air and sang along with “Don’t take it away from me, I need you to hold on to,” did it occur to them that they were rocking out to a song primarily about a man struggling with his God-centric belief system? Or that this song about misplaced faith was older than they were? And did it matter, really, to the young ones or anyone else? How about the obese dude in the John Deere shirt—did it matter to him that this song is about God and not being spurned by an ex lover or your government or your dad or your tractor, and that it’s 24 years old? Or the man in his fifties wearing the Cosby sweater and Hagar slacks pawing the twenty-something next to him and looking like he was gearing up for some date-rapey fun right there in their seats—what was he thinking or feeling during this song (other than the hip/waist/thigh/ass of his poor date)?
“Head Like a Hole,” album-mate of “Terrible Lie,” appeared before the encore break and elicited an even larger crowd reaction, which, OK, fine, but: YAWN. Aren’t we all tired of this song? Fan favorite (and also overplayed) “Closer” did not make an appearance, however, though Reznor and friends did tease a few notes of it during another song. “We’re in this Together” suffered the same obscure fate. But there were lots of favorites and darling deep cuts that were left behind (“Perfect Drug” and “Starfuckers, Inc.” anyone?); just over two hours just isn’t enough time for everything.
Nine tracks from “Hesitation Marks” dotted the show, an expected number considering that’s what the Tension tour is promoting. The fairly basic but very cool light showers of the show’s opening gave way to a high-tech digital-light spectacular, achieved with two screens: one behind the band, one in front. It was a spectacle one would expect from Reznor: digital with human underpinnings, innovative without abandoning the familiar.
Something else to be expected from Reznor: he let the music speak for itself (performed expertly by his backing band, which included two soulful backup singers who brought a new level of excellent to “All Time Low” when they replaced the album’s layered Reznor vocals). This is the extreme end of the veteran-performer approach but can be appreciated. The audience isn’t there to be pandered to; they want to hear the fucking music. Beyond thank yous and good-byes, he addressed the audience only once: “We love you. We don’t take this for granted. We honestly didn’t know people still gave a shit.”
“[Give] a shit” is an understatement. He may’ve come back haunted, but Reznor brought with him the best NIN album we’ve seen in a decade and a live show that rivals any younger acts’ energy.
Keep the tours coming; we’ll keep giving a shit.
“Copy of A,” “1,000,000,” “Terrible Lie,” “March of the Pigs,” “Piggy,” “All Time Low,” “Disappointed,” “Came Back Haunted,” “Find My Way,” “The Frail,” “The Wretched,” “Into the Void,” “Satellite,” “Survivalism,” “Running,” “A Warm Place,” “Somewhat Damaged,” “Wish,” “The Hand that Feeds,” “Head Like a Hole,” (encore) “Even Deeper,” “In This Twilight,” “While I’m Still Here,” “Black Noise,” “Hurt”