This just in: Nine Inch Nails and Deerhunter Play Mind Blowing Show @ the E Center!
There are few things more exhilarating than a live show that exceeds your expectations by 110%. Such was the case at last night’s Deerhunter/Nine Inch Nails show.
I invited my older brother to attend the show with me, as he was my NIN showmate at the Delta Center when I was 13 and he was 15. Prior to last night’s show, we honestly didn’t know what to expect. We hoped for the best, but one never knows how a band who potentially peaked in the ‘90s is going to fair onstage a decade later.
By the time we parked, picked up our tickets, and navigated the labyrinth that is the E Center, Deerhunter had already taken the stage. Deerhunter is one of my favorite bands in the known universe, so when I heard the first chords of their set wafting through the arena, I grabbed my brother and ran—amid a sea of beer-swilling dudes and dudettes in black fishnet shirts and pants with rivets--as fast as my legs could carry me to Portal A section 126.
It was a surreal experience watching Deerhunter play on such a giant stage, bathed in green and purple light. The E Center’s excellent sound system served them well. Their set was smooth, beautiful, and serene. Time stopped while they played a seamless mix of old and new songs, including “Hazel Street,” “Strange Lights,” and “Nothing Ever Happened.” The ferocious, chaotic energy that exuded from the stage last time I saw them play live seems have been replaced by something warm and peaceful. Their music and live show have evolved in a captivating, nuanced way that will surely extend their fanbase far and wide.
At the end of Deerhunter’s set, frontman Bradford Cox thanked the audience for watching.
“You could have been getting a beer, but instead you watched us. We really appreciate that.”
The audience reception was mixed. There was a group of hardcore Deerhunter fans (like me!) near the front of the stage, but the bulk of the audience appeared to have only Trent Reznor’s forthcoming appearance on their minds.
I asked my brother—a self-described “synth man”—what he thought of Deerhunter’s guitar-driven set. He told me he thought they played well, but he wondered why Reznor didn’t select an opening band who catered more to the traditional electronica-loving NIN fan.
“Perhaps Trent wants traditional electronica-loving NIN fan to open their minds,” I replied.
But then Trent blew it--my mind, that is.
NIN’s set was absolutely phenomenal. My brother and I—who have steadily depleted our hearing with hundreds upon hundreds of concerts over the years—agreed that it was among the best live shows we have ever seen. Ever! Anywhere! Period. Trent Reznor has gained tremendous creative momentum and over the past 5 years, and his current tour showcases each of his brilliant endeavors.
The set list was a perfectly crafted mix of old and new songs. Familiar crowd-pleasers like “Closer,” "Head Like a Hole,” and “March of the Pigs,” mixed in with newer, more ambient instrumental material.
My brother and I were blown away by the strength of Reznor’s vocals, and the energy with which he traversed the stage during NIN’s two and half hour set. Reznor’s backup band was incredibly tight and energetic as well.
My brother and I fell in love with Pretty Hate Machine and The Downward Spiral all over again.
“Trent Reznor looks really buff.” I said at one point, “Do you think he lifts weights and eats veggies with Henry Rollins? I’d like to see the two of them have an arm wrestling contest.”
The visuals during NIN’s set were mind-blowingly incredible. It is frustrating to attempt to write about the visual portion of the show, because it is one of those things that one must see to believe. Nine Inch Nails were alternately flanked by undulating strobe lights, a mesh screen with alternating images (such as a swamp, a city, and the bright blue center of a flame), and a colorful, constant barrage of stage lights which matched the matched the music perfectly.
My brother explained that many of the pictures which appeared on the screen (such as the swamp, a city, and the bright blue center of a flame) were fan-generated content. Reznor pioneered using the internet to interact with fans, and his efforts have added a whole new artistic dimension to his work.
Prior to the final encore, Reznor addressed the audience, blasted his former record (with whom he had a nasty split), and thanked his dedicated fanbase for supporting him in his current independent incarnation.
“You are the real fans. You are smarter than average concert goer,” he said in closing.
Reznor ended the show with a keyboard solo.
Last night's concert proved that Trent Reznor is a gifted, seasoned artist who has only gotten better as the years have passed. I feel so foolish for even entertaining the notion that NIN peaked in the ‘90s. Reznor cares deeply about his fanbase and his music, and if you have a chance to see him live I strongly urge you to do so.
Shaky footage of NIN, July 2008 at Key Arena